My Initial Introduction to Cholla Cactus
Having lived in Albuquerque a while back, I was introduced to these vibrant, magenta Cholla Cactus flowers. This introduction was purely by accident while hiking the trails of Elena Gallegos Park and surrounding Open Space. It was a favorite outdoor haunt while living in ABQ.
It was a large patch of Cholla growing quite tall. My timing was perfect as the magenta cactus flowers were in full bloom. I also recall the encounter as I was not alone. There happened to be a small herd of deer meandering by at the same time.
Tall, alien looking cactus combined with deer strolling by is not something you see everyday. The deer and I briefly looked at each other with curiosity. Then my focus returned to the Cholla.
These bizarre looking cactus left an impression. Fascinated, I stood taking in their odd shapes and magenta pink flowers.
At the time of my initial Cholla Cactus introduction, my photography journey had not yet begun. Actually I was in the early stages of my independent, Graphic Design career which began in ABQ.
Ironically it would be years later before the Cholla and I would meet again. Only this time I’d be better equipped with new camera and art photography lens in hand.
The photo to the left was taken with my old digital camera. It became a helpful reference for documenting when Cholla Cactus bloom.
Observing Cycles – When Cholla Cactus Flowers Bloom
With my wanderings along the trails around Santa Fe, I began paying closer attention to cactus flower bloom cycles and patterns. This became incredibly important if I wanted to photograph them – which I did! As my fist year in Santa Fe was without my good camera, I noted on a calendar for when the little nubby pink buds would begin to appear. This way I’d be ready for them the following season.
Observing cactus flower bloom cycles, red Claret Cups definitely tend to flower first. This is usually around mid to late May. Prickly Pears cactus flowers are doing their thing around this time too.
Recalling my time in Albuquerque, I’d say Cholla Cactus begin to bloom earlier in May. Around Santa Fe they’d be blooming a bit later May into June. And in this neck of the woods along the front range of Colorado, Cholla Cactus typically bloom around mid June.
Location and climate will definitely affect when and if cactus flowers will bloom. So say you’re out on the Western Slope of Colorado or further south into New Mexico, they probably bloom earlier.
I LOVE Photographing the Pink Cholla Buds
The flowers are beautiful in full bloom. Their intense magenta color explodes in the sun and are hard to miss. It’s such a contrast against the spiny, alien-looking plant! However, over time I’ve found that it’s the pink buds just prior to opening that I gravitate towards and really love to photograph.
There is something about the shape, flower petals and texture that I find so appealing. Thus many of my preferred photos have become of the buds rather than the open flowers.
In Unusual Company
Having left the high desert trails of Santa Fe to a Colorado locale, thankfully, the Xeriscape gardens I frequent for photo ops has several Cholla Cactus plants growing about. And they briefly keep some unusual company.
During a short period in late spring, one Cholla plant in particular has the company of Allium (ornamental onion) with their spiky, star-like seed heads. This has made for some interesting photos – IMHO.
There is a short period when this can be captured as Cholla flowers are short lived.
The photo to the left is evidence of such a paring. Taken with my Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens, it gives the photo a soft, liquidly effect.
Leave It to the Bees
As always, I like to give bees some of the lime-light…
Like other cactus blooms, bees go crazy for Cholla Cactus flowers! In fact watching them squeeze their bodies in and out of the pink flower buds is quite a sight. In the mornings they will hover over the buds as if circling to find just the right one to enter. It’s fascinating to watch. And often they may be moving just slowly enough to capture a few good photos.
In the photo below, you can see the bee is dotted with pollen AND you can see the little yellow pollen sacs on his legs. He’s hovering over and just getting ready to enter the flower.
As with other cactus flowers, once the day warms up, the bees descend en-masse upon the pink opening gems. It can quickly become quite a frenzy with their mission to find just the right flower. It gets rather hectic and thus time for me to step away. I’m like the uninvited party guest at that point!
Stop and Observe the Flowers
If you ever have the opportunity to be around Cholla Cactus flowers while they are blooming, stop and observe. Against their spiky plant limbs, they are magical. The flowers don’t tend to open completely till later in the day and you will be in the presence of unusual beauty and perhaps some VERY busy bees! 🙂