Thursday, 16 June 2011

Life at the sharp end . . .

When you think of a cactus, what you springs into your mind?  Is it their colour?  Their shape?  A particular holiday that you associate with them?  I see the green, the succulence, the spines.  The conditions that the cactaceae are subjected to are harsh.  Their distinctive appearance is the result of adapting to conserve water in dry and hot climates, where most of the plants' moisture is obtained in the form of fog.  They have thick, succulent and photosynthetic stems, boasting spines instead of leaves.  The spines offer a protection from herbivores whilst providing some shade to reduce transpiration (loss) of water from the waxy, water-repellent stem. 

This family, native to the Americas, are spectacular, but, it was most certainly not the flowers that popped into mind when pondering these camels of the plant world.  Of course, we all know the Christmas cactus and associate pretty, usually pink flowers with that, but the cacti as a whole just aren't beautiful are they?  Well, yes they are!  The flowers are surprisingly intricate; almost neon in colour and exquisitely feminine in start contrast to the phallic, spiky main stem.  They range in size, but some are so tiny they would be dwarfed by something the size of a medium-large bee (that sounds like trying to buy a bee "off the peg"!  I'll take a medium to large bee please, colour black, not too much yellow and wrap him to go please.  Careful with that stinger!).  The cacti are one of natures' many surprises and they put on such a show; full of amazing star quality with their beautifully delicate flowers, some opening only at night, in true performance style!  Take a quick peek and wallow in their delicacy for a few moments.  Let their beauty seep in as the colours pop like small fireworks throughout the most barren of places.

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