In spite of the dry winter, colorful flowers are showing up in shades of yellow, magenta, purple, and red throughout the Inner Gorge. Unlike the wildflowers, you can usually count on the cacti to flower in spring. They are much more drought tolerant and well adapted to our desert environment. If you ever touch the skin of a cactus–carefully avoiding the spines–you will notice that it is thick and waxy feeling which is one of the ways it keeps from drying out. Other features that help them survive are:
- Cacti have no leaves which are extremely wasteful of water. Instead they have sharp spines which provide protection from animals and even a certain amount of shade.
- Their root system is shallow and grows out along the surface surrounding the plant to allow the capture of rain as soon as it falls. A 3-foot tall plant can have a root system that spreads out 10 feet!
- The roots are not smooth like other plants but rather cork-like which allows the plant to absorb precipitation quickly.
- Cactus stems are often accordion-shaped to allow expansion of its succulent interior to absorb as much rainfall as possible for storage.
- The stomata, little pores all plants have in their skin that open and close for collecting carbon dioxide, open at night time while it is cooler and the wind is calm. This prevents the acceleration of water loss.
These are just a few of the ways that cacti have evolved to survive in the desert. Enjoy the blooms of spring and watch where you are walking! They are best viewed from a short distance.
Here are some of the most common desert cacti you’ll find in the Inner Gorge at Grand Canyon.
All photos courtesy of Grand Canyon National Park, Mike Quinn, unless otherwise stated.