April showers and succulent flowers

My fascination with succulents and cacti initially arose out of necessity—they are the natural denizens of semi-arid areas such as where we live—but has developed into a true fascination with these quirky and frequently beautiful plants.

This aloe grows in a pot in our back terrace.

They come in thousands of contorted and bizarre shapes and most look gruff, spiny and downright hostile. They don’t want to be messed with, by humans or hungry goats, and some remind you of that with hair-thin thorns that break off and embed in your skin.

Then comes April and the same succulents now beg to be admired with their bright green growth replacing their dour, grayish winter plumage and most amazingly, flowers in all colors from shrill orange to more discreet shades of rose or lavender. Some are delicate and orchid-like, others tiny and barely visible, while a few grow in giant stalks ten or fifteen feet high that serve as natural alarm clocks to bees, signaling them to get going and make some honey.

Their flowering seasons are brief and not simultaneous, which has the added advantage of forcing me to walk around the ranch to check which cacti or succulent is putting on a show.

This very common aloe grows all over the ranch.

A couple of years ago I tried to learn their botanical names in order to exercise my aging memory but it proved too big a task. I remember a few names such as the agave americana medio picta alba and the aloe family but beyond that, succulent and cacti nomenclature is a hopelessly tangled jungle. For example, I know euphorbia, except there are dozens and dozens of euphorbias most of which don’t look at all similar. And so on with the opuntias and mammillarias. 

In fact, I’ve come to appreciate why Mexican nursery owners rather use made-up names like “Shrek’s Ears” or “Helicopter Cactus”. Both of them are some type of euphorbia, but who can remember which one?

Small red flowers will form a crown atop this
barrel cactus, which grows wild in the ranch. 

“Crown of Thorns” is an unfriendly-looking succulent
that flowers most of the year.

Mammillaria cactus, with tiny lavender flowers. 

There are about 200 species of mammillarias. I don’t
know which one this is, though its purple flowers
stand out atop a white plant. 



3 thoughts on “April showers and succulent flowers

  1. Anonymous

    The desert never ceases to amaze me. I have lived in Arizona all my life except for the time in the military. In I think 1967 or 1968, we had rain for about three weeks straight. Following that, I saw plants bloom that I had never seen before, and have never seen again. Flowers were on everything, and then they were gone. Some were so tiny that one had to actually get down on the earth to see them.


  2. You have reminded me how much I miss the botanical garden in San Miguel de Allende. If it were not for the dog (I can even say that in Spanish now), I would make a quick trip up your way.


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