Frailea (2005)

PhotoBy Chris Deem (October 2005)

A poor but proud older woman wipes the sweat from her brow. She rides sidesaddle on her heavily laden donkey and carries a large black umbrella to shade her on her way.

Now there is something you don’t see every day – no, not the woman, look there by those rocks. A small frailea in bloom! It is a common belief that the tiny green or light-brown cactus has flowers that never open.

Let me tell you a story of self-reliance. Many species of Frailea are cleistogamous. This means they have the ability to set seed without opening their flowers. In other words, they are self-pollinating. The frailea seeds, shaped like a small hat, are already present in the closed flower buds, which then become seed vessels.

In some species of Frailea, like this one, something rare sometimes happens. On a day like today, when the sun is bright and the temperature is very high, a small, inconspicuous cactus opens its bright yellow blossoms to proudly face the sun. Cross-pollinating is then possible.

Frailea, I think about your name. Maybe you’re just small clusters of cacti, plain green or brown. Your spines are nothing special, and to most eyes, it seems you can’t even open your flower petals. Then I look again at the small frailea in bloom. It is proud, self-reliant, like the woman in the distance, with her black umbrella shading her on her way.