Sunday, March 9, 2008

Fish-Hook Cactus...

The fish-hook or strawberry cactus (Mammillaria dioica) is my favorite of all the cacti in the Anza Borrego. My best explanation for this: they're cute! They are small (under a foot tall and just two or three inches in diameter), furry-looking (until you get close enough to see the stout, sharp spines!), and colorful. They seem to like best areas that are protected by immediately adjacent rocks and boulders, and this leads to some very picturesque settings for them.

They're also mainly confined to specific areas. On our trip yesterday, we only saw them in one place – a small canyon just east of S-2 and just south of Box Canyon. There's a short, unmarked dirt road (perhaps 100 yards long, safe for 2WD) that leads to a small clearing and a place to park. The only sign is a small, brown sign declaring this a wilderness area. If you didn't know the canyon was there, you'd think there was nothing to see – most of the “good stuff” is just around the corner. There is a vague trail that runs up the canyon floor, but it really doesn't matter where you walk.

The sand and gravel wash at the very bottom form a distinct micro-environment, with its own flora. If you look carefully as you walk, you'll be able to identify other such micro-environments as well. Nearly every plant has some special place that it likes to grow. For instance, the large barrel cacti seem to like steep, stony slopes the best. The teddy bear cholla grows most often on slightly exposed, slightly higher places. You'll find Chuparosa in sandy washes. In a place like this little canyon there may be dozens of such micro-environments, each with its characteristic set of species...

Here's my photos from yesterday. As always, click on these images to see a larger version:

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