RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Countless colorful cactus blooms cover South Texas wildlands from coastal prairie to arid brush country.
More species of cacti are found in Texas than in any other state. With some 100 varieties, the richly hued colors range from bright yellow and orange, to subtle shades of pink or salmon, and others glow vividly reddish.
The most prolific is prickly pear, and in 1995 the Texas legislature selected it as the official state plant.
While flowers of prickly pear are strikingly beautiful this time of year, the thorny cactus also provides shelter and sustenance to a variety of wildlife like the aptly named cactus wren that invariably conceals its nest in thorny recesses of the stickery hideaway.
Spectacularly brilliant purple flowers of the Strawberry cactus or pitaya glow brightly in the warm sunshine. After the blooms fade, the fruit, which tastes like strawberries, will be a much sought-after delicacy for wildlife.
Tucked amidst thorny chaparral are scores of other less abundant cacti. Ladyfinger flourishes a stunningly fluorescent pink bloom, while the spindly Wilcoxia produces a similarly hued flowering of delicately draping petals.
The aptly named Horse Crippler is protected by a formidable array of thorns atop which rests a crown of pink flowers. Later, the plump red fruit of the horse crippler will be quickly devoured by a variety of wildlife.
Many species of cactus like endangered peyote and Star cactus are found only in deep South Texas and nowhere else in the United States.
Peyote is renowned for its hallucinogenic effects and has been utilized in native religious ceremonies for thousands of years, but overharvesting is making it increasingly rare in the wild. It can take 10 to 30 years for peyote to mature, before producing its subtle pinkish-white booms.
Watch your step while in the wildlands admiring myriad cactus blooms, as it is also the time of year when Diamondback rattlesnakes are most active.