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Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Echinocereus sp.: The Hedgehog Cactus
The hedgehog cacti are probably my favorite group within the cactus family. I find their forms, including shapes and spines very interesting. Their flowers come in an assortment of beautiful colors ranging from pink to red to white to yellow to purple. Flowers also survive quite a few more days than other cacti flowers. The scientific name for hedgehogs is Echinocereus. Fittingly, echino means "hedgehog", and cereus means candle. I suppose the individual stems may look somewhat like a hedgehog or candle, but I consider them to look more like a cucumber standing upright. The stems of hedgehog cacti most often are clumped together but with several species they are individual or forming mounds. Hedgehog cacti are common throughout SW United States and NW Mexico surviving in the low deserts to the high mountains. The full extent of hedgehogs ranges from South Dakota to Central Mexico. Identifying these cacti can be a little tricky at times and knowing flower color as well as spine density, length, and coloration is essential. Even within species there can be considerable variation of traits. For this reason, botanists have been confused and arguing over classification of different hedgehog cacti for decades. As time goes on, these botanists seem to discover more and more species, or identify new species out of already existing groups. Hedgehog fruits are also typically very tasty and Native Americans would eat the fruit as they came across them. The cacti do not seem to produce a lot of fruit though, so I suppose they were eaten more like a snack.