Sclerocactus polyancistrus (2013)

By Chris Deem (November 2013)

A stout cylindrical sclerocactus stands alone in a valley, in the heat of a brutal midday sun. Shaded by long red and white spines, what can be seen of its stem is almost nothing. Reflecting the light, some of its spines are hooked, others are not. All are dangerous and strong.

At the crown of this cactus are seven flowers. Five of the seven flowers have opened their petals. The rose-red petals encircle soft centers of gold. The flowers have a scent. Pleasant or foul, it is a scent that could only be judged by someone willing to come very close. The flowers are all slightly offset to the right. It almost seems as if they have turned to look at something.

To the right of the flowers is a stark grey and purple landscape highlighted by a small hill. At the base of the hill, a massive rock shades a small spring-fed pool of water from the oppressive midday sun. It is high noon in Death Valley on a warm April day.

There in a liquid oasis, seven tiny pupfish dart out from the shadows for a moment of play. There are five silvery females with dark, haunting eyes and two males of iridescent blue.

In the book The Genus Sclerocactus, by Fritz Hochstatter, I read that this species is quite endangered. That is a real pity, because it is, at least in my opinion, a very beautiful species. Sclerocactus polyancistrus is, if I read the information correctly, the largest species in its genus.

Its natural habitat includes areas in both the Mojave and Great Basin Deserts. Unfortunately, like the pupfish in this story, Sclerocactus species are rare and endangered. Fortunately, many sclerocactus are federally protected.