Little Wild Hedgehog

 

 

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(Above: The Crowning)

When I first moved to Abiquiu in 2016 I was living in the hills and was exploring the arroyos and surrounding Juniper scrub when I discovered a desiccated little hedgehog cactus somewhat hidden under a Juniper’s canopy. Thus far I hadn’t seen any cacti at all except for cholla and prickly pear so I was somewhat surprised by this hedgehog’ s appearance. I decided to transplant the cactus into a pot and dug it up, watered it, replanted it and left it on my outdoor step in partial shade (now I know that it is wiser to uproot the cactus and lay it on its side to rest in the shade for about a week before re-potting to insure that the roots heal to protect them from parasites). For the rest of the fall and winter it just sat there sort of shriveled on one side and I wondered if I had made a mistake.

When we (my dogs and telepathic bird, Lily b) were finally forced out of this inhospitable rental (without heat or a stove to cook on) in mid February by a terrifying fire I took the cactus with me, not wanting to leave it in such an unfriendly place. I re-potted it again, this time in a smaller container and left it outside at our new home by the river. Soon I discovered more wild (pincushion) cactus growing on the mountain slopes, dug them up along with bits of their rocky soil and added them to the solitary hedgehog who sat on a bench outdoors (Each cactus was surrounded by bits of rock that I had taken from the site where I found them, along with their native soil). I inspected the little cactus community each day when I stepped out of the trailercita. Was it my imagination or were the cactus responding to my attention? I watered them sparingly and gave each some fertilizer. By early April, I noted an amazing change in the hedgehog. She grew plump and turned a brighter green, her damaged tissue on one side seemingly repairing itself. I was absolutely thrilled. This little cactus had decided to live! Showering heaps of attention on all my spiny companions, the rest of which were also doing well (I had five in all), I often reflected upon how little it takes to make a plant or animal thrive. And how heroic these wild plants are, subsisting on so little taking what minerals and other sources of nourishment they can from the rubble around them, while leaving the cactus vulnerable to whatever the weather might bring – harsh winds, thirst, hunger, snow, or ice.

It seemed to me that these tough little cacti were a model for survival that a person could emulate if s/he chose.

Imagine my astonishment when I first discovered the tell tale bumps on the two wild pincushion plants that would one day become flowers. It was mid April now and the sun was hot and each dawn broke into deep cobalt blue skies. I began to water my cactus family weekly with child-like anticipation as more bumps appeared.

When my now not so little hedgehog developed two bumps around her crest  in late April, I simply couldn’t believe it. This cactus had undergone a reversal – from death to life – and now she was going to bloom!

The first two deep pink – almost magenta – blossoms with their bright yellow centers took my breath away.

Little did I know that this was only the beginning. My hedgehog cactus bloomed four different times between May and the end of June. The third time she blossomed she had five flowers in all and wore her wreath like a crown (Although I have researched these plants all the sources say that they bloom just once a year).

I was leaving Abiquiu to make a trip east for the summer and couldn’t bear to leave the hedgehog cactus behind, even for a few months, so she came to Maine with me with one other cactus. My hedgehog bloomed once more about a week after my arrival as if to let me know that she appreciated the fact that I had not left her behind…

Over the summer she thrived and grew positively rotund, her damaged side now completely healed. She turned a brighter green, now resembling the rest of the Maine foliage that surrounded her.

About two weeks ago I brought her inside because the sun is so low on the horizon that it is no longer shining anywhere around my house for more than a few hours a day, and knowing that she was a New Mexican native I feared the lack of sunlight might harm her. Placing her on a western windowsill in an upstairs window, I decided to let her soil dry out to prepare the plump cactus for dormancy, and reminding her that we would soon be returning to Abiquiu where she would once again feel the warmth of a sun star that was closer to the equator… “This dull sky is temporary” I remarked repeatedly, to reassure her.

Because I rarely use the upstairs, I didn’t see her every day, although she’s not alone because she sits next to the other cactus that I also couldn’t bear to leave behind. When I went to water my hedgehog last week, just a few days before my birthday, I had another shock. Where once all her flesh seemed evenly distributed I now noted an egg shaped bump on one side. Could this be a fruit?

Excitedly, I opened my computer to find out and discovered that indeed my now very robust hedgehog (she has doubled in size) was putting forth fruit! Reading on eagerly, I discovered that the fruit would ripen to a dull orange and that these fruits were edible. Not for me! I am going to let the fruit ripen and collect the seed. I have visions of teeny little cacti that will grow from the seeds that are already forming inside the egg shaped capsule with its black top knot. Once again, I am thrilled! In one year, this plant has completed an entire life cycle and is putting forth new life – all this might not have happened had I not come upon this little cactus in the first place.

Now I am visiting with my hedgehog every single day to keep a sharp eye on her fruiting body. The day before my birthday while peering at her spiny skin I suddenly noticed another bump forming. More excitement! Altogether, I discerned that there are four in all; the others were barely noticeable as yet, but the protrusions are there. And because I want them to keep developing I think I will water a bit more frequently… Yesterday, on my birthday, a second egg was quite visible.

(Below, a picture taken yesterday. There are two distinct “eggs” visible, but you have to look carefully! to see them)

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The fact that my little hedgehog chose last week to show me her fruiting body seemed like an amazing birthday gift. I had another when the Great Horned owl family’s deep and resonant whoohing surrounded the house, lasting for about an hour the night before my birthday. Since, these days are always poignant with longing because I have spent so many birthdays alone, I am particularly grateful to Nature who always remembers and brings me gifts that I could never imagine. Lily b sings at this very moment reinforcing this thought.

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And then again, on my birthday, another little jewel came by air.

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Wild-crafting the Hedgehog and a brief reflection on Motherhood

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Early last spring while walking in the desert in a rocky area with mineral rich soil I discovered a clump of two very small cacti amongst many other similar clumps. Delighted by the diminutive size of the cacti I dug two along with native soil to pot at home. I noticed two tiny bumps on the sides of each inch tall cactus that were cylindrical in shape and both had short spines that were ridged in burgundy.

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About a month later I was on a rock hunt with my friend Iren, when we discovered another bigger clump of what looked like the same kind of cactus, although the ridges on these were not quite the color of red wine. This clump had more rose red buds. I couldn’t resist bringing this cluster home too along with plenty of chert/flint rich soil. Before I dug up either clump I made certain that others grew in the same area. Whenever anyone digs plants in their native habitat (wild -crafting) it is important to make certain that others of the same kind grow nearby.

After re-potting each in its native soil and placing stones around the periphery of each pot (that I found in the rocky soil around the plants), I placed the two cactus clumps next to each other on a bench right next to my door. The second clump also had buds. Each time I went outside the little cacti greeted me. There was something about finding these cacti growing so naturally and happily in the wild that really appealed to me. I wonder now why I couldn’t leave them there.

I soon learned that Echinocerus viridiflora was a hedgehog cactus that was different from most other hedgehog species. For one thing the cactus is very frost tolerant, and it grows much further north (I found both clumps at about 7000 – 8000 feet in the mountains of Northern New Mexico). The species is native to the central and south central United States and in Northern Mexico where it can be found in varied habitats including mountains, desert scrub, woodlands, and dry grasslands.It also has small flowers along the stem rather than near the tip of the cactus. Plants are globular and can grow 12 inches tall and 1 to 3 inches in diameter but most are much smaller. Stems either remain single or form clumps like some of the ones I had seen. Some clumps could become quite large with a dozen or more individuals. The spines might be variable in color, ranging from red, white, yellow or purple and were short and quite numerous. The flowers could be greenish yellow, pink, orange, brown, or even red. I wondered if elevation or mineral content of the soil helped determine the color of the spines and the flowers.

With so much variation within one species I now suspected that the little cactus I had dug up down the road from my house might also be another Echinocereus v. hedgehog cactus; this one is covered in white spines. The problem for me is that visually they look so different although this one is very small and round too…

Further research on the species as a whole answered one of my questions. One variety of this plant sometimes called Echinocereus davisii is listed as an endangered species and is limited to Brewster County in Texas where it grows in a specific mineral substrate. I couldn’t find any information about the variation in flower color but I suspect that colors also vary with the type of rocky soil and/or the elevation the cacti grow in.

To my great surprise I also discovered that many of these cacti are scented.

I did not know until it was too late that (according to one source) that Echinocereus v. was considered to be “at risk.” Please learn from my mistake. I believed that I was being responsible. I would never knowingly dig up a cactus (or any other plant) that was threatened, unless I knew it was going to be destroyed. All around me as I dug the plants in different locations there were groups of the same cacti. What I failed to take into account is that I found these cacti in diverse, but consistently rocky areas, each having it’s own microclimate and mineral content. I learned the hard way that I should have let them be.

I know one thing for sure. I will treasure these little cacti always, because it would be almost impossible to return them to their original surroundings.

Today is Mother’s Day. My little hedgehog cacti are covered with buds and lemony yellow blooms with a greenish tint. They are stunning and the bees love them!

Nature has gifted me with these exquisite flowers on the one day of the year that celebrates motherhood albeit in a sentimental way. Cactus blooms remind me that the goddess is present in Everywoman as a mother and that she also has thorns! The sharp spines of the cactus that sting like bees also remind me of how difficult motherhood really is, or has been for any woman, not just for me.