Faces of the Wild: Ball Cactus
Ball Cactus (Coryphanta vivipara), Cactus Family.
Years ago, while engaged in geology field work in southwestern North Dakota, I lugged a heavy pack stuffed with rock specimens. The air was stifling that late June day, and I felt miserable, tired and drenched in perspiration. Then, just ahead, I spotted a clump of blazing pink. Close-up, I savored an impressive cluster of ball cactus blossoms, 10 inches across and 6 inches high. (A part of that cluster appears in the photograph.) Other ball cactus blossoms I’d seen were single or only up to three in a group. This must have been an old plant, I surmised. My discomfort from the heat and weight drained away.
For Quick Recognition. The pink to purplish-red ball cactus blossoms, about an inch across, display many pointed sepals and petals, many yellowish stamens, and a single pistil of several united parts. The fleshy, round stems are fitted with spirally arranged bumps. Spines replace leaves. Juicy, edible berries replace the flowers.
Where and When Found. Search for ball cactus in dry open habitats. You can find it from central Canada south to Texas and west to Oregon and California. This cactus blossoms during May and June.
Of Note. If you eat the berries, watch out for spines which deter animals from eating any parts of the plant.
Coryphanta (core-ee-FAN-tuh) vivipara (vye-VIH-puh-ruh) has also been named Escobaria vivipara, Mammilaria vivipara, cushion cactus, and pincushion cactus. Coryphanta is from the Greek koryphe, “cluster,” and anthos, “flower.” Vivipara means “sprouting on the parent plant.”
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ALAN M. CVANCARA has nurtured a passion for wildflowers for more than 40 years. Cvancara is a retired geology professor and the author of 11 nature books: Edible Wild Plants and Herbs, A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist, Sleuthing Fossils, Bare Bones Geology, Designs of Nature, Canoe Tripping and Life, Exploring Nature in Winter, Sleuthing Fossils, At the Water´s Edge and Showy Wildflowers of Casper and Muddy Mountains, Wyoming. He and his wife have co-authored Windows Into Legacy, a poetry-photography book. Cvancara is also an artistic photographer.
This article first appeared in The Journal of Wild Culture on December 3, 2013.
Photo credit, cover and top.