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Flora Fact - Cactus Cup

The claret cup’s blooms attract hummers, and its fruit feeds birds and other animals.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

From April through June, the crimson flowers of the claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) dot the rocky mountainsides and dry grasslands of the Trans-Pecos region with brilliant color.

"They're usually blooming when the hummingbirds return from the south," observes Peter Beste, a cacti enthusiast in El Paso. Hummers, which love claret cup nectar, serve as the plant's chief pollinator as they flit from flower to flower.

"Claret cups are one of a few cacti species that have female and male flowers on different plants," Beste adds. "So some claret cups bear fruit while others won't. Later in the season, the red fruit provides food for birds and other animals."

Another unique characteristic: "The blooms of most cacti are open just one day, then they close, and it's over," says Beste, who salvages native cacti from construction sites and replants them in local gardens. "But claret cup flowers stay open four to five days, and they don't close at night."

Named for their scarlet blooms, claret cups grow in small, spiny clumps of cylindrical stems. Larger mounds can number up to 100 or more stems. European settlers dubbed them "hedgehog" cacti after the prickly mammals they remembered from their homelands.

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