Some people say that the native cacti of California are boring, with about half a dozen taxa occurring in nature, but when you drive around the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, less than an hour’s drive from LA and San Diego with a wide range of comfortable hotels and a baffling choice of eateries and where Brits and semi Anglicized Dutchmen can make ourselves understood without too many linguistic skills (except that last night a ‘small pie’ turned out to be a huge pizza, large enough to feed a family of four!).
After doing battle with our waist line at Perry’s Cafe, 0.1 mile from the El Cajon Motel 6, me met up with Juergen Menzel and Eunice Thompson for a drive along I-8 to Ocotillo, where we headed north (south would have taken us back to Mexico), past a farm of wind turbines in full swing. It was not very long before Eunice, driving the lead car, pulled over as she and Angie had spotted a huge clump of Echinocereus engelmannii in full flower. Awesome! as they say in California.
And only a few meters away another impressive group of flowering cacti: Opuntia basilaris, and yellowish flored Cylindropuntia sp. (C. wolffii?). After two weeks plus and thoroughly confused by Ferocactus hunting in Baja, we were now thouroughly confused by the variability seen in Ferocactus cylindraceus. Juergen still prefers the name F. acanthodes but at least we can agree that the plants are identical, just a matter of a taxonomic nicety as to which name to use. This plant has a huge distribution area. Last year I saw it in Nevada, near Las Vegas and this year F. cylindraceus subspecies tortulispinus was recorded by us in Baja. subsp. tortulispinus was also present here in Anza Borrego, or at least many plants of F. cylindraceus with tortulous spines. ‘But they don’t here’ I hear a choir of experts sing out. ‘We don’t read books so well and were never taught geography’ I hear the choir of Feros respond! Well, they would if they give a damn – it seems that Homo sapiens is the only species that does.
There were also plants that would have passed as Ferocacus rectispinus at any fancydress parade, but you’ve guessed it – they don’t grow here either. Their impressive spines were flatter than the ones observed in the Sierra San Francisco.
Would it not be great if we based names on a plant’s physical characters rather than where it grows in nature? We can always write a paper to extend their known distribution! A lot more research into the different soil types where these plants grow may reveal a possible course for the twisted spines. There were some nice, predominantly white spined F. cylindraceus plants near the Box Canyon stop where over one hyundred years ago the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Stage coaches would speed past.
Mammillaria dioica and its superficial look-alike Mammillaria tetrancistra, the former in flower, the latter with typical huge red fruits containing the typical large seeds. At the Cactus Loop Juergen had marked the spot where a huge crested Mammillaria dioica caused us to queue and for cameras to click again. Along the Cactus Trail, Eunice found a Mammillaria ‘ten trancistors’ with a dozen or so huge fruits.
Time was pressing and we could not possibly finish the day without a visit to the Julian Apple Pie shop in San Ysabel. The range of fruit pies had been extended to include Cherry and Loganberry, as well as the old favourite of Apple and Peach. Very tempting to get one slice of each. This stop has become such a tradition since 2008, that Angie and I decided to spend some more dollars on Julian Pie Shop (JPS) souvenirs, Angie on a fleece with logo and I a baseball cap with logo. Time to pose for pictures. As by now we had eaten our pies, I needed to buy another slice. Needs must!