A trip to Big Bend area should include some time at the Barton
Warnock Environmental Education Center. You can get more
information about the center and its location from the above link.
The self-guided botanical garden is an excellent spot to see and
learn about many different plant species that grow in this
region. Unfortunately we were there before most of the cacti came
into flower but it was still a memorable visit. So let's take a look
at some of the plants. It is in two parts: there are cacti only in
Part I. Part II contains everything else.
The Cactaceae (Cactus Family) is a large and diverse family found
only in the New World. The plants have a number of adapations for
survival in hot, dry climates. The leaves have been reduced to
spines and the succulent stems can store large amounts of water. The
spines protect the plants from herbivores and probably serve to
reflect sunlight and radiate heat away from the plants. Cacti are
popular as cultivated plants and this has resulted in confusion in
their taxonomy and the widespread removal of them from their native
habitats. Do not purchase cacti, particularly large ones, unless you
are sure that they were grown from seeds or cuttings.
The genus Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus) is a large and
very common one. The joints of the stem can be flattened to give the
typical prickly pear morphology or they can be more or less
cylindrical (the chollas). They are edible if the spines and glochids (minute, barbed hairs)
are removed. Many ranchers in the Southwest use propane burners to
burn the sharp parts off so that the pads can be eaten by cattle,
particularly in periods of drought.
Echinocereus (Hedgehog Cactus) is another common genus
that can be found throughout dry regions of the United States and
Peniocereus greggii flowers at night.
Mammillaria is another large genus that has been widely
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