By PATRICIA SIMPSON
Cute and cuddly! Not really what one thinks of when meeting a cactus. But our observation of the month by christybeck (visit bit.ly/3g6bwFu) isn’t just any prickly plant, it’s the Fish-Hook Cactus (Mammilliaria dioica). Cute for its small size and tight cluster. Cuddly for its softer-than-most appearance. But let’s not fool ourselves, it’s never a good idea to cuddle with a cactus, especially one that bears the name “fish-hook,” a tool meant to capture and not let go of its prey.
Have you ever noticed that a cactus has clusters of spines all around? These are called areoles. In the Fish Hook Cactus, straight short spines shoot out of the areole in a circle formation, except for one long spine at the very center which grows quite a bit longer than the others and is curved at the end, like (you guessed it) a fish hook!
You may see mammillaria cacti in bloom in early spring and enjoy the beautiful white to cream colored flowers. Each petal has a pale pink line through the center. The fruit that follows in late spring to summer is quite striking. It is oblong, bright red and supposedly delicious, tasting somewhat like a mix of strawberry and kiwi, which explains the other common name for the plant: Strawberry Cactus.
In San Diego, the Fish-Hook Cactus is found on the coast and in the desert at up to 1,500 feet in elevation. Most of the observations of this cactus in the MTRP Biodiversity Project on iNat are actually located in an open space area adjacent to the park’s western boundary, but Fish Hook Cactus may be found within the park boundaries, so keep an eye out for it and be sure to document it if you see it.
Just in case you fell in love with this cactus and are still considering the cuddling thing, check out this observation (bit.ly/2ZoEh9C) by jaykeller from 2015. Mr. Lizard, if he could, would highly recommend you refrain from such attempt.
— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trail Regional Park.