I know these aren't Zygocacti, for Heavens sake... discounting those (which deserve their own blog by someone who can actually grow them well) I realize that Christmas isn't exactly cactus season (except maybe in Patagonia)...but there is something terribly Christmassy to my eyes about the flowers of the myriad claret cup cacti (a section of Echinocereus that is distinctive for its badminton birdie flowers that stay open rather than close at night like most echinocerei). A dozen or more species have been named in this section of the genus based on their genetics and distribution: one of the most spectacular, Echinocereus polyacanthus, is found primarily in northern Mexico--but has proved very hardy at Denver Botanic Gardens for twenty or more years. It has especially lovely, immense crimson chalices--a rich claret cup indeed! Cheers!
Echinocereus coccineus ex Taos
David Salman, proprietor of the recently disbanded Santa Fe Greenhouses, once gave me two seedlings of Echinocereus coccineus he grew from seed collected above Taos: this high elevation form is remarkably diminutive--those stems are barely two inches across! E. coccineus tends to form much larger cushions than E. triglochidiatus, is usually a bit more orangy in flower, and blooms a week or two earlier in my observation...
This is one of the many fine cushions of E. coccineus at Denver Botanic Gardens Dryland Mesa.
For contrast, here is a form of Echinocereus gonacanthus (probably best treated as a form of E. triglochidiatus) on Dryland Mesa as well: I have admired large mounds of these on the cliffs at Royal Gorge, not far from Canon City in central Colorado.
And here is the giant of the group: the huge "White Sands Form" of Echinocereus triglochidiatus. This performs quite a ballet in the garden, rising to great heights in summer, and shrinking to half its summer height in winter. I remember seeing this everywhere around White Sands in the 1970's and nary a one on a recent field trip: were they hiding? overcollected? was I just in the wrong spots? I have observed areas with widespread cactus die off periodically (they succumb to prolonged drought or insects as other plants do--and will come back). One of the above no doubt is correct. Fortunately, my buddies (Dan and Socorro) at Rio Grande Cactus grow this by the thousand! (I blogged about their enchanting nursery a few months ago).
Back to Echinocereus coccineus--the clumps above are probably 50 or more years old: we transplanted them from Red Rock park where they were the centerpieces of a cactus garden created more than forty years ago by our local cactus club (they were expanding the gift shop and wisely contacted us to rescue these mounded monsters)...I suspect they had to be at least ten years old at that time--hence my estimated age. They are likely even older than that: admiring these is a highlight of every May for me at work.
And finally, there's my favorite clump in the wild, south of Moab a dozen miles or so in a wonderful canyon. I have brought many dozens of people here on field trips from Denver Botanic Gardens in late April when the canyonlands are at their peak of spring bloom--that's only four months away! An even larger clump growing at the fabulous cactus garden at the old Fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa south of Grand Junction...do click on the blue highlighted link at the start of this sentence to check that one out!
Meanwhile, I shall tip a cup of claret this Christmas and toast this past rewarding year and to your health! Clink clink!