Among the many amazing plant species in Zion are cacti. There are over 2000 species of cacti in the world. These unique plants come in many shapes and sizes, from tall and prickly to small and smooth and everything in between. In addition to their unique shapes and surface features, many cacti bloom beautiful flowers, making them even more stunning to look at.
In Zion, the most common types of cacti are the claret cup, prickly pear, and cholla. These three types of cacti are a true joy to see while traveling the landscape. Visitors to Zion will want to seek out these incredible plants once they have learned more of the interesting things about the different types of cacti in the area.
Claret Cup Cactus
This cactus is also known as the Mojave mound cactus, kingcup cactus, and hedgehog cactus. The barrel-shaped stems of this cactus can gather in just a few mounds or over a hundred mounds. The surface of the stems is covered with long spines which shed easily.
On these stems bloom beautiful waxy flowers. They are usually around eight to nine centimeters in diameter. They bloom in shades of orange and red and grow in a funnel shape. The flowers only stay on the cactus for five days. The flowers remain open day and night, which is unusual since most cactus flowers close at night. During their time on the cactus, they are pollinated by hummingbirds which helps to create more flourishing claret cup cacti and helps develop edible fruit.
When visiting Zion, guests will find the claret cup cactus across the landscape. Most commonly, it can be found in gravelly soils at up to 3000 meters of elevation. This gorgeous plant stands out from the landscape and is just one of the many things that make Zion such an incredible area.
Prickly Pear Cactus
There are many different species of prickly pear cactus across the United States. In Zion alone, there are more than four species of prickly pear cactus. The beavertail, plains, cliff, and Engelmann’s prickly pear cacti can be found in many areas of Zion. These cacti have very different characteristics, but each one is a gorgeous sight to see.
The beavertail and plains prickly pear cactus usually do not have spines, but they do have many sharp and spiky glochids. The cliff and Engelmann’s prickly pear cactus both have spines along the tops of their pads. The cliff, Engelmann’s, and beavertail prickly pear cacti have bright yellow flowers of varying shapes, sizes, and locations. They all bloom and thrive in the summer months. Most of these prickly pear cacti produce edible fruits. Their fruit is sold under the name “tuna” and their pads are sold under the name “nopalito.” The fruits and pads of the prickly pear are delicious and nutritious, providing much needed soluble fiber.
The different types of prickly pear cacti can be found in many different elevations. The lowest is the beavertail, at 9,000 feet or less of elevation and the highest is the plains prickly pear which can be found at up to 10,000 feet of elevation. They are all found in the drier, gravelly areas of the landscape. Paying attention to the flora of the land and identifying the species of prickly pear can be an exciting adventure for guests while in Zion.
There are over 20 species of cholla cacti that can be found across the United States. The most common species of cholla to be found in Zion is the sand cholla cactus. The sand cholla is a bushy cactus that grows up to 10 inches high. Sand chollas appear to be very bushy from afar, due to their extremely dense spines. They usually grow in large areas next to many other sand cholla cacti.
Flowers on this cactus are pink to magenta and can grow up to one inch in diameter. The flowers have yellowish-green filaments which stand out in the center of the flower. Once the flowers bloom, they give way to the fruit which is smooth and red. The fruit is barbed and grows up to one-inch long.
The sand cholla can be found at higher elevations, usually around, 4,500 to 7,000 feet. It favors dry areas, like dry lake borders and sand flats. Guests should be on the lookout for sand cholla, not only because they are a delight to see, but also because they are quite painful to run into. Seeing these spiky beauties while in Zion will be a highlight of the trip.
See the Cacti of Zion
Guests visiting in the summer months will love to see these amazing cacti bloom and flourish. They are one of the many unique plants that grace the vast red rock terrain of Zion. Whether guests go on a voyage to identify cacti or simply stumble across them during their journeys, they will appreciate the beauty and resilience of these incredible desert plants.