E. rigidissimus rubispinus (2014)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (November 2014)

It is only during that waning late-afternoon time, on days when the sky is clear and blue, that you might see it. At all other times, the entrance hall appears quite masculine.

Muted tones of gray envelope the elegant mahogany staircase and the small lion statue made of bronze. At all other times, the dark wood of the stairs, the light gray walls, even the thick, pale columns seem to be waiting.

There is only one feminine ornament in the hall, a crystal chandelier. At most times, it is illuminated demurely by the sunlight piercing the curved windowpane above the door. Yet, if you were to be there at just the right time, you might see the transformation. At that time, the chandelier’s appearance is no longer demure – it reflects the sunlight like a crystal moon. The teardrop pendants of the chandelier are prisms that break the sunlight into visible wavelengths of colors.

As this happens, the pale walls and pale columns are also transformed. Resplendent colors vanquish the somber moo as the hall is transformed by a multitude of rainbows. Like lovers parting, the transformation lingers, holding the light until it is gone.

It almost always has a single columnar stem, masculine with its comblike red spines. Yet a duality of nature is revealed to me whenever I see one of its flowers held high above its stem like a crystal chandelier.

This impressive species from a rugged region in the Sierra Oscura is commonly called “rainbow cactus.” There are many wonderful Echinocereus cacti. Many have beautiful flowers, and many have handsome stems. However, cold-hardy or not, no other Echinocereus seems to match the beauty of “the rainbow,” E. rigidissimus rubispinus.