Desert Beauty: Living Rock Cactus

Look closely at her secrets.  Buffers of creosote between thorny arms of mesquite and the spines of ocotillo.  Plants intertwine but like an iceberg, there is much more beneath the surface.  There is beauty here. 

In the fall, glimpses of fuscia mark my path.  Gone as quickly as they appear.  A flower appears from rock.  I kneel to look closer. 

A protected species, native only to the Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend and northern Mexico, Ariocarpus fissuratus, also known as the Living Rock Cactus, is a cryptic little plant hiding in plain sight.  Stems typically flush to the ground and well camouflaged, blending with the surrounding mosaic in shape, color, and texture.  Shrinking in times of drought, kept alive by the unseen, yet substantial taproot.

Shying away from the world, in her quiet and unseen way.  I feel special to know her. 

Almost invisible, yet a few days each year she lifts her head up in all her beauty for me to see and blooms.  Growing slowly over decades to maturity.  Because of her rarity, she is coveted by collectors and transported by smugglers over thousands of miles.  Leaving the desert wanting for more.

She needs a hero.

Note:  The Chihuahuan is the largest desert in North America, extending from the southwestern United States into Central Mexico.  Threatened today by an ever-increasing human population, water misuse/management, overgrazing and a general lack of knowledge.

Considered at least partly a “rain shadow” desert, the Chihuahuan is impacted by the effects of mountain ranges on either side, blocking moisture from coastal storms.  Plants can take years to reach maturity here and replenishment is slow.  The living rock cactus takes eight to ten years to reach maturity and reproduce – and that’s if it makes it.  Many plants in the desert also serve the food chain, something scare already.

To learn more: https://texashighways.com/things-to-do/parks/big-bend-is-ground-zero-for-a-thriving-black-market-for-native-plants/

To get involved:

https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/chihuahuan-desert

https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/chihuahuan-desert/