June 16, 2019
Have you ever driven three hours one way just in the hope of seeing a ball cactus in bloom?
After a phone call confirmed that ball cactus might be blooming in Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge near the South Dakota border, Kelly and I jumped in the car to find out for ourselves–never mind that we’d just gotten back from a 600 mile searching-for-wildflowers road trip up north.
We’d seen ball cactus, one of the state’s rarest plants, for the first time last year long past its bloom time, and seeing it with its magenta flowers open was high on our wish list for this year.
Three hours later we arrived at the refuge and drove straight to the rock outcrops where ball cactus grows. The beautifully round little cactuses with their tessellated spines did indeed have pinkish protrusions that might either have been blossoms already finished blooming or buds just about to bloom. Were we too early or too late? After studying all the cactuses we could find, we decided we were just a few days too early—the edges of many buds showed the bright-colored petals beginning to protrude.
Even though we didn’t actually see ball cactus in full bloom, we saw so much else. Brittle cactus grew in abundance on the rocks, and the surrounding tall grass prairie was abloom with spiderwort, larkspur, prairie alumroot, narrow-leaved bluet, yarrow, prairie rose, hairy false goldenaster, slender beardtongue, and prairie cinquefoil.
We wandered on top of rocky outcrops under the vast prairie sky, a cool wind blowing, feeling as though we were standing in the middle of a world made right by wind and sky and the promise of cactus flowers.
Next year’s wish list: we’ll try again, but we don’t regret this mad dash to try to see ball cactus blooming. The prairie filled our hearts.
And after all, what are wish lists for but to wish on?