Cactus Lovers Hike at Dugout Wells

Prickly pear cactus with yellow flower.
Prickly pear in bloom.


The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail is an easy, 0.5-mile loop through the desert and ending under the shade of the cottonwoods and huisache trees at Dugout Wells. This trail is a great place to look for classic Chihuahuan Desert plants.
A blind prickly pear pad topped with a row of fruit.
Blind prickly pear pad with fruit.


Blind Prickly Pear
Opuntia rufida

Watch those glochids! Blind prickly pear looks soft and fuzzy, but it's not. Those "tufts" are fine, hair-like spines called glochids that will imbed themselves deep in your skin. So admire, but don't touch. Blind prickly pear blooms in April and May and grows in the hottest, driest part of the desert.
Purple-tinged prickly pear with long, black spines.
Big Bend Purplish Prickly Pear.


Purplish Prickly Pear
Opuntia azurea

Four types of purple prickly pear grow in the park. Big Bend purplish prickly pear (the species at Dugout Wells) is the most common. The intensity of the purple color depends on drought- and cold-stress. In winter, the cacti are brilliant purple; during the summer monsoons the pads are mostly green.
Engelman prickly pear with yellow flowers.
Yellow flowers of an Engelmann prickly pear.


Engelmann Prickly Pear
Opuntia engelmannii

The most common prickly pear in the park and the largest of the wild prickly pears. The flat pads have a distinctive spine pattern: three white spines pointed downwards. The spines resemble the three-toed track of a bird. The solid yellow flowers of Engelmann prickly pear bloom April through July.
Pad and long, dark spines of a tulip prickly pear.
Long, dark spines of the tulip prickly pear.


Tulip Prickly Pear
Opuntia camanchica

Another common prickly pear of the northern Chihuahuan Desert. The tulip prickly pear can be distinguished from Engelmanns prickly pear by the red or black spines (Engelmann prickly pear has white spines).
Stems and bright magenta flowers of the strawberry pitaya.
Strawberry pitaya in bloom.


Strawberry Pitaya
Echinocereus enneacanthus

One of several "strawberry cactus" that grow in the park. This species grows in many-stemmed mounds, usually under the shade of a mesquite. Bright magenta flowers cover the plants in April and May. E. enneacanthus doesn't have as many spines as the "true" strawberry pitaya (E. stramineus).
Bright pink flowers of strawberry pitaya.
Magenta flowers of strawberry pitaya.


Strawberry Pitaya
Echinocereus stramineus

Considered the "true" strawberry cactus. The fruit looks, tastes, and smells like ripe strawberries (but even better!). The plants are many-stemmed mounds that are densely covered in straw-colored spines. Magenta flowers cover the plants in late spring (March through May).
A multi-stemmed rainbow cactus with yellow flowers.
Yellow-flowered rainbow cactus surrounded by Big Bend bluebonnets.


Texas Rainbow Cactus
Echinocereus dasyacanthus

A single to multi-stemmed cactus with large yellow flowers that bloom in late spring. The cactus gets its name from the color and band-like growth of its spines. Rainbow cactus are most common on limestone soils on the east side of the park, but a few can be found at Dugout Wells.
A low clump of cactus stems with a single pink flower.
Pink flower on a low clump of Big-Needle Pincushion Cactus


Big-Needle Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha macromeris)

Big-Needle Pincushion cactus is one of the most widespread cactus species in the park--but not the easiest to see! Look for low-growing, many-stemmed clumps. The rose pink to magenta flowers bloom from May to September, usually in response to rain.
A short barrel cactus with a bright pink blossum.
Eagle's claw cactus in bloom.


Eagle's Claw Cactus
Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Easily recognized by its squat, thick, solitary, 8-ribbed stems. Eagle's claw is common, but often overlooked until it blooms in late spring and sporadically throughout the summer rainy season. The bright, magenta flower is a showstopper!
A short barrel cactus with long, hooked spines and yellow flowers.
A giant fishhook cactus blooms after a late spring rain.


Giant Fishhook Cactus
Ferocactus hamatacanthus

A small barrel cactus that grows under shrubs or in rock crevices. It's a late bloomer--the yellow flowers usually coincide with the start of the rainy season (June through August). Notice the long, hooked spines that give this cactus its common name.
A low-growing cactus with short, white spines.
A low-growing nipple cactus hides among rocks.

CA Hoyt

Nipple Cactus
Mammalaria meacantha

A common cactus that is easily overlooked. It hides beneath trees and when dry, shrinks down to soil level. A circlet of cream-colored flowers with pink stripes crowns the plant in the spring.
Green, spiny stems of allthorn are tipped with small, white flowers.
Allthorn in bloom.


Koeberlinia spinosa

As the name suggests, allthorn is a tangle of green limbs tipped with sharp spines. After a rain, clusters of tiny white flowers appear on the branches, attracting bees, flower flies, wasps, butterflies, and other pollinators.
The chocolate brown stems of leatherstem are adorned with small leaves and white flowers.
Leatherstem in bloom after a rain.


Jatropha dioica

Usually just a mass of red-brown, single, leafless stems. But rain brings out the best in this plant. Leaves sprout and tiny, bell-shaped white flowers bloom. The stems are flexible, but if broken, the sap turns red giving the plant the common name of sangre de dragon (dragon's blood).
Cream and pink-tinged blossums of a torrey yucca.
Torrey yucca in bloom.


Torrey Yucca
Yucca torreyi

Torrey yucca (or Spanish Dagger) is the most common of the five yucca species found in the park. When mature, this tree-like yucca is about 6 ft. tall. Look for the stiff, sharply pointed, fleshy leaves, and the spikes of cream-colored flowers. You can find Torrey yuccas in bloom almost any month of the year.

Last updated: August 11, 2020

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