Thursday, April 9, 2009

Word of the day - Cladophylls

It was a beautiful day when I got home after lunch (I'm working half days this week). You don't often get April days with perfect blue skies and highs of 78F, though that is the normal for this time of year. Seems to always be warmer than "normal", and though we've been in the 90s already this season, I feel the need to get out and enjoy the 70s while they are still here!

So I grabbed the digital camera and retraced the neighborhood ramble Melinda and I took last weekend, looking for interesting photos. Melinda's comment from our walk is that I needed a sense of scale in the photos, which may be valid, but it almost made me rebel and go even closer to the objects, so mounted a Nikon macro lens on the Canon XSi (with inexpensive adaptor ring). The lens is so old, it isn't even an AI lens, let alone auto focus, but with the XSi's magnified live view, it is easy to check focus, and a monopod helped steady the view, so I really didn't have to throw out many images.

Looking back on the photos, the young pads of the prickly pear cacti seem to be the main subject. Their official name is cladophylls (clad-o-fils) - "flattened photosynthetic branches assuming the form of and closely resembling ordinary foliage leaves". Locally, they are also known as nopales (no-pah-lehs), and you can buy them in Safeway in the canned vegetable aisle. Supposedly all varieties of the cactus are edible, but there must be certain kinds raised for food - all of these looks pretty prickly, even these that are from this Spring's growth. Scrape off the spines, cut into strips, steam for a bit and you're eatin'! No, I've not tried the canned or fresh versions - perhaps someday...

My first shot was about 80 feet from our front door - our neighbor Susan has what I think may be a Santa Rita prickly pear. The flash of bright purple and green caught my eye from a good distance (the green spicules fall off as the pad ages). The only problem was that I had to (carefully) shoot under another branch of the cactus to get the shot. The other thing I discovered is that many of these shots were made from my knees, and Arizona soil is rocky at best, and covered with cactus spines at worst - I need a cushion or pad to carry with me on future trips. To placate Melinda, I should say that this cladophyll is about 7cm wide (2.5 inches).

This next shot is from the same cactus as the flower shot from Sunday. The red tips of the tubercles attracted my attention, as well as that of the honeybee as well, even though there were open flowers nearby on the plant. Since Arizona is now in the "Africanized" bee zone, you can likely assume any bee you see is a "killer bee", though there isn't much to be concerned about unless you threaten or disturb a hive. It is easier than you think, though - they tend to collect in unusual places, like the water utility meter chambers or even mailboxes, so utility workers and the public have to be a little cautious doing even routine tasks... Anyway, the bee serves as size reference! I do not know what the black substance is at the base of the tubercles - parasites, mold or what. The stuff is not visible in older pads.

This next shot is a favorite because of the gentle curves formed by the glochids (spine clusters). Is it a real pattern or a desire for the brain to want to "connect the dots" to make the curves? While they look soft and fuzzy, they definitely stiffen with age, and eventually become dangerous!

And while these cladophylls look similar to the last, the cactus is definitely different - more of a ground cover than an upright shape, and the pads are considerably smaller. A shot of the flower buds made it into Sunday's post, so am including the pads today. They are only a little over a centimeter across (about .75"), so are quite small. The full-size pads are about 10cm (4" diameter). There has been almost no change in the flower buds the last 4 days, so these desert plants are in no hurry to bloom, though I did notice some saguaros that had flower buds (normally bloom in May or June). Will have to figure out how to photograph some of those when they are 20 feet or more off the ground!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Clarification: Official name for prickly pear is Opuntia. Tne name for Opuntia stem/pad structural type is a cladophyll.

The areoles, giving rise to the glochids, follow a distinctive growth pattern. : )