RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – Myriad colorful blooms of Texas prickly pear cactus cover the South Texas wildlands from the coastal prairie to the arid brush country.
The richly hued colors vary from bright yellow and orange, to subtle shades of pink or salmon, and others glow vivid reddish.
While the flowers of the prickly pear are strikingly beautiful this time of year, the thorny cactus also provides shelter and sustenance to a variety of native wildlife.
This Inca dove has chosen a safe haven for her nest, deep within the protective thorns of the prickly pear where she attentively broods her young.
The prickly pear is also home to the aptly named cactus wren that invariably conceals its nest in the thorny recesses of the stickery hideaway.
Along the coast, great blue herons often select a thick prickly pear patch to raise their young. And while the formidable bill of the imposing heron would deter most predators, it doesn’t hurt to have the added protection of a nearly impenetrable nest location.
In addition to offering excellent nest sites, the prickly pear pads also provide a valuable food source for wildlife such as Cottontail rabbits and javelina. The moisture retaining pads are particularly vital during periodic droughts.
Later, after the colorful flowers fade, the ripening tunas or fruit of the cactus will become a much sought after delicacy for birds and other animals.
Ground squirrels and Texas tortoises are particularly fond of the tasty tunas. Texas prickly pear is certainly one of the most valuable native plants in southernmost Texas, and from beautiful flowering, to nesting habitat and savory tunas prickly pear is peerless.