As you walk through the desert, there are many opportunities to view some of the striking cacti and their unique shapes. What is not initially apparent, are the many examples of plants helping young cacti survive. However, if you look closely, it is all around you – desert shrubs and trees sheltering growing cacti from the harsh desert climate.
It is easy to walk by and not even notice the presence of the small cacti growing underneath nurse plants. Most of the year, the fishhook cactus (Mammillaria microcarpa), pictured above, are almost impossible to see. It is only in the spring when they are blooming that you can spot them.
For the smaller cacti species, bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) most often serves as the nurse plant. It also often serves as the first nurse plant for saguaro cacti.
So next time you have the opportunity to take a walk in the desert, look around….you will most likely see examples of this unique relationship of plants helping young cactus survive.