Photo of a beavertail cactus blooming

Spring Brings Vibrant Cactus Flowers to the Mojave Desert

In May of 2021, we purchased just over an acre of vacant land in Arizona’s Northwestern Mojave Desert. We returned that November with our self-converted camper van to start building our dream space in the desert! Since early March, I’ve been watching the cactus flowers slowly—and I mean slowly—go from teeny, tiny buds to some of the most vibrant and abundant wildflowers I’ve seen in my life!

Cactus of the Mojave Desert

Most think of California when they think of the Mojave Desert, but the Mojave actually stretches North into Southern parts of Nevada and East into Western Arizona. Depending on the geographer you ask, you may get a slightly different map, but in general, they agree that the Mojave Desert is not confined to California. What makes our experience in the Mojave Desert slightly unique in Arizona is our proximity to the Sonoran Desert. Our property sits right along an ecological transition point between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. That means we get the famous Mojave Desert Joshua Trees, while also enjoying abundant ocotillo shrubs and saguaro cacti well-known to the Sonora Desert!

In addition to these larger than life desert plants, we also have an impressive amount of smaller cacti on or near our land, including beavertail prickly pear, California barrel cactus, buckhorn cholla, teddybear cholla, foxtail cactus, and hedgehog cactus. You can find a complete list of cacti in the Mojave Desert here!

The Blooming Process

I started noticing small buds pop up on the beavertail cacti in early March, just as the Joshua Trees were finishing their rare performance of flowering in synchrony across the desert. From then on, it’s safe to say I impatiently checked them for progress on a daily basis, making my cactus rounds across our land.

Spring Brings Vibrant Cactus Flowers to the Mojave Desert - beavertail prickly pear cactus
Beavertail Prickly Pear buds from late March in the Mojave Desert

Shortly after noticing the beavertail buds, I saw new growth and buds emerging on the hedgehog and buckhorn cholla cacti as well. You can witness some of that initial growth—and my excitement about it—in the TikTok below.

@shellby_the_shuttle Springtime baby! #cactusblossom #cactuslovers #desertlife #springtime #arizonacheck #cactusbloom ♬ Home (Option 1 – The Young Ebenezers

Initially, it can be difficult to tell the difference between new growth and flower buds, but as the buds develop, the difference becomes more obvious. As both the new growth and the buds continued to progress, they began to look more distinct. It was only then that I realized some of what I thought were buds were actually new cactus growth!

Spring Brings Vibrant Cactus Flowers to the Mojave Desert - hedgehog cactus
Hedgehog cactus with two small buds emerging

Needless to say, I went a little crazy with the camera as the flowers began to bloom. You can view some of my favorite photographs of the Buckhorn Cholla, Hedgehog, and Beavertail buds and blooms in the gallery below!

Photos of Cactus Flowers from our Land

Indulge in the Colorado Lavender Festival in Palisade, CO

Stephanie Wilson

Stephanie was born and raised in Colorado where she developed her great appreciation for exploring big open spaces outdoors. She is a Sociology PhD and advocates for the discipline of applied sociology in her role as a founder of Applied Worldwide, a digital content production and consulting company. Dr. Wilson is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and a researcher of health inequalities. She is also a dancer at heart, serves on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Dance Collective, and is always looking for her next opportunity to perform, teach, or choreograph.