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.

Opuntia kleiniae

Opuntia engelmannii

Opuntia phaeacantha


Echinocereus (Hedgehog Cactus) is another common genus that can be found throughout dry regions of the United States and Mexico.

Echinocereus dubius

Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Echinocereus dasyacanthus

Peniocereus greggii

Peniocereus greggii flowers at night.


Mammillaria is another large genus that has been widely cultivated.

Mammillaria heydeii

Mammillaria pottsii

Ferocactus wislizenii

Coryphantha dasyacantha

Neolloydia conoidea

Go to Part II