New Growth #19A

Opuntia engelmanii, Texas Prickly Pear

Opuntia engelmanii “Texas prickly pear”

Opuntia engelmanii, Texas Prickly Pear


What I love about springtime in Texas is that nothing is what you think it is. Not the weather, not a creek, not a rocky path, and certainly not a cactus. There is softness amidst the hardness, and even the foreboding prickly pear explodes with life. In springtime, this cactus has parts that aren’t prickly, that don’t go “thunk” when you flick your finger against them. These softer bits are a little bizarre–otherworldly even, and hard to find.

What this means is that you have to pay attention. You have to notice things, get close to the ground. If you are afraid of the spines, the prickliness, you’ll miss the softness that can only be seen up close. The adage is true: things are big in Texas: highways and overpasses, hair and cattle. Yet finding new growth requires noticing something small.

Amidst the bustle of newness, energy and rapid change, spring has to be a time to sit still and get close to things; if you don’t, you will never see what unfolds from within a menacing knot of spines. From afar the prickly pear is a mound of dangerous paddles that will eventually bear fruit, but even those are, as its name insists, prickly. Only the intrepid will find the new parts, the softness that emerges from the dryness and the hardness of the everyday landscape. The conditions are right in springtime for this new growth to emerge: the blazing sun is often diffused by mist and clouds, and water fuels the rapid growth. Eventually the sprouts and offshoots will have to harden and mature if they are to survive the summer, but now is their time to be vulnerable and be part of beginnings. Some will fall off of their parent plant (the way many succulents propagate) and take root on their own; others will become branches and extensions, forming new parts of a bifurcating  structure that explodes with beauty and complexity.


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