Survival of the fittest continues to play out on the arid Llano Estacado plateau. Today, air temperatures will hit 90°F as the ceaseless prairie winds debilitate flora and fauna. The wrinkled flesh of prickly pear cactus pads speaks volumes about the severity of drought conditions. Yet, tender buds promise beautiful flowers. The pads are the water storage, photosynthesis, and flower producing organs of these high plains dwellers. A waxy outer layer of cells known as the cuticle helps to reduce water loss from the pads.
The formidable spines seem to say, “ How much pain are you willing to endure to take a bite of me?” Yet, javelina, pack rats, and even humans have devised strategies to partake of the nutritious flesh. In addition to their nasty reputation as defensive weaponry, the spines have functional roles. They serve to condense dew, collect rain mists, and direct the life-giving liquids along down pointing spines to root areas. Moreover, the spines are a physical sunscreen. The lifeless needles deflect sun rays thus lowering surface temperatures of the plant. In some cacti the spines are so dense they create a surface microclimate to further reduce water loss through evaporation. On your next outing take note, prickly pear and other cacti in full sun exposure locations sport more spines than those near trees, shrubs, or tall prairie grasses.
The Llano Estacado is a boundless teacher.
|Don't Tread On Me|
|Spiny Cradle Of Life|