My previous post introduced the reader to Canyon de Chelly and some of its cultural riches.
In this post, I am featuring the amazing wild cacti growing all over the place. In fact, if you don’t watch your step (easily done when you hold a camera to your face trying to find the perfect vantage point), the cactus spines will quickly remind you to do so. Mostly, I wore my sneakers and was able to pull off the needles from the tough fabric. But, when I wore my sandals, the outcome was often a bit more painful. Sometimes, I found myself with little pricklies (the short hairlike spines are called “glochids”) embedded in the skin of my fingers.
Cacti and rock ledges seemed to go hand-in-hand and gifted us with memorable scenes. Here, yellow and orange-flowering plants share the same space:
In this multi-colored grouping, the cacti seem to arrange themselves into a scalloped pattern:
There were tall bush-size cholla (“choy-ah”) cacti (Cylindropuntia whipplei), many of them covered with fruit already:
This was the only cholla plant I found that was still blooming:
The Navajos consider the cholla fruit inedible but use the dried, hollow stems to make rainsticks.
The majority of the cacti plants in the Canyon were Pricklypear cactus (Opuntia spp.), mostly budding or blooming; no prickly pear fruits yet!
I loved finding the various stages of bloom next to each other, from the early bud to the fully opened flower, often buzzing with insects, and even the past-prime flowers. Each had their own unique allure:
But, honestly, I loved the flowers in full bloom the best:
Pink blossoms, in particular, called me for several photo sessions for just the right lighting and various stages of blossom opening. The soft, feminine pink of the blossoms, juxtaposed against the long, dangerous thorns were full of intrigue.
In this patch, the tan grasses with their delicate seedheads tussled by the wind, provide a great contrast to the fleshy cactus bodies and their pink glory crowns:
The fruit of the Pricklypear cactus is sometimes called “tuna” and turns a purplish red when ripe. It is edible (after the tiny spines are removed) and makes a delicious fruit juice or jam. The fleshy cactus pads are also edible but spines and glochids must be removed by singeing them. The pulp can be eaten fresh or cooked. Navajos also use the fruit to make a natural pink dye.
Reference: Wildflowers of Canyon de Chelly by J.L. Turner & C. Turner (2008)