Chihuahuan Desert Plants – Eagle’s Claw Cactus

by Rick LoBello

If you have been paying attention and have taken a few walks into the desert, I think you will agree that 2020 is turning out to be a great year for cactus flowers. The Chihuahuan Desert is considered to be the epicenter of cacti diversity with 318 species of 1500 species worldwide. Here in El Paso we have quite a several dozen species and at Franklin Mountains State Park botanists have identified 35 cactus species.

One of the more common small cacti in our area is called eagle’s claw cactus or Turk’s head. The scientific name is Echinocactus horizonthalonius.   Echino in the genus name refers to the Latin word echīnus or sea urchin meaning spiny or prickly.  The name eagle is pretty easy to figure out since the large spines resemble the talons of an eagle.

Many eagle’s claw cacti have already bloomed, but there are others that have not.  To see this beauty with its rose to pink flowers you just have to go out and look. Late morning and mid-day are great times, just be sure to protect yourself from the sun and carry water.

Eagle’s claw cacti are found almost everywhere in the Franklin Mountains including parks like the Westside Community park.   When they are not in bloom, they blend in well with their surroundings so look carefully.   Each cactus is about 4-6 inches wide reaching about 12” tall.   The more compact the spines the older the cactus.   You may be tempted to take one of these cactuses home.  If you are thinking about it please don’t.   Each cactus takes many years to grow to maturity and every adult cactus removed from its habitat can impact the survival of the species. 

Like all native plants and animals everything has a role to play in keeping our environment whole and intact.  The flowers of this cactus are visited by hummingbirds and insects and the fruits provide food for small mammals.   Enjoy our desert and like people have said for many years, take only photographs and memories and leave only footprints.

All photos by Rick LoBello

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