Photo: Flower of Selenicereus spinulosus, a climbing cactus from Texas.
Back in 1997 while we still lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico Susie (my wife) and I visited Goliad, Texas to see my mother and grandparents. On the return trip we took a leisurely route toward Del Rio, Texas before heading home. On the way we passed through Three Rivers, Texas where I’d spent most of my junior year in high school to see one of the houses I’d lived in. Across the street from that house was a large mesquite tree (Prosopis glandulosa) and growing over that tree was a climbing cactus I’d never seen before. We stopped and asked the owner if we could have a cutting. Having permission, we took a foot long piece of stem. Once back at home I placed the cutting in a pot in the greenhouse where it remained until 2000 when we started our move to Goliad, Texas.
Goliad has a climate similar to that of Three Rivers so I planted the cactus, which had several stems four to five feet long by that time, at the base of a tallow tree (Triadica sebifera) in our new yard. The cactus obviously liked its new environment and that first year grew 20 plus feet into the tree’s canopy. The cactus didn’t climb with tendrils or by twining. It climbed by wedging the growing tip and its spines into the furrows in the bark. Whenever a stem failed to catch it drooped and continued to grow in a dangling fashion as the photo below shows.
Once the stem began dangling new stems would start growing where the droop started, leading to a cascade of stems from that point. Some of these new stems would find purchase and climb further into the tree’s canopy while others dangled. It was on these dangling stems that flower buds grew, opening into spectacular pink blooms that lasted only a day.
Over the years I broke off pieces and placed them at the base of other trees so that today many of our trees are festooned with climbing cactus.
I always wondered what species this cactus was and looked through books and searched online. I’ve never taken botany so I am not proficient at plant identification and time after time failed to identify the cactus. I wasn’t even sure of the genus much less the species. Then a few days ago I stumbled up on http://cactiguide.com/. It seems to be a very comprehensive cactus information source so I decided to post on its Cacti Talk forum for help. The forum actually had an entire section named Cacti Identification. After registering and waiting for approval, which required a short essay on why I liked cacti, I finally posted photos of stems, flower, and fruit. After a few days, the consensus seems to be that it’s Selenicereus spinulosus. The identification is aided by the fact this species naturally occurs in Texas. So now I have a name after all these years of growing this cactus.
I plan to send some to our kids in Austin and friends in the Fort Worth area to see if it will survive winters harsher than ours. If it does I’ll try even colder climates such as Santa Fe where I failed to try it outside while living there. A son and nephew have houses and yards there so they’ll be good test sites.
See, I can grow more than fish…