Human Flower Project

Botanically Challenged

Why can’t a keen detector of cattle dogs tell her hedgehogs apart?


Echinocereus mysteriosa

Photo: Human Flower Project

This is a cactus plant. It is prickly. It is blooming today. It is implanted in a rock (so don’t try swiping it).

Here you have the extent of our botanical insight (and minor baring of teeth).

We have tried to do better. Today, inspired by radiant purple blooms and aware (oh, yes, more horticultural knowledge) we won’t see such a display for another year, we tried to track down just which cactus variety this is. Is that what botanists do?

We are 86% sure it is an Echinocereus cactus, but how can you tell whether it’s Echinocereus fendleri Sencke ex Haage (pink hedgehog) or Echinocereus engelmannii (strawberry hedgehog), when perhaps it could in fact be Echinocereus enneacanthus, except that variety is supposed to have “warty ribs.” Would we know a “warty rib” if we saw one?

Certainly the Latin names of botany can be off-putting, especially if one is not a native speaker. The words are so long, for one thing, and for another the translations are puzzling. We learn from a reliable source, for example, that “the genus name Echinocereus is coming from the Greek for ‘hedgehog’, while the second part ‘cereus’ comes from the Latin for ‘large candle.’”  Fond as we are of metaphor, the juxtaposition of hedgehogs and large candles defies even the silliest parlor game of surrealism. Why would a hedgehog be bearing a candle, and if it were, wouldn’t a small candle do?


Lest you think we are unobservant and that’s what’s getting in the way of accurate botanical identification, please note that we are entirely capable of recognizing that both these specimens (left and right) are Australian Cattle dogs. In fact we can tell from about a block and a half away whether a creature is even one/eighth Australian Cattle dog, of which there is/are an abundance. Some varieties of echinocereus are endangered species; the Australian Cattle dog is not an endangered species.

And while we have edged over to a topic we know something about, we might also mention that the dog of St. Dominic (Santo Domingo) which in some renderings looks like a dalmation/cattledog cross but in others seems to be a plot hound, usually is seen bearing a candle.

We can tell a cattledog from a plot hound. And we can accept the idea of a dog bearing a candle, even a large one, which is sometimes known as “a torch.” But a candle-bearing hedgehog. Please.




Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/02 at 02:57 PM


How about a candle bearing spines? Would that make sense?

Posted by Jeremy Cherfas on 05/03 at 02:35 AM

Dear Jeremy,

Thanks for writing!
Hey, you’re the one living in Italy, where the likelihood of candle-bearing spines would be a good bit higher. Let us know what you spot, per favore.

Good wishes,

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/03 at 03:14 PM

Sure Julie. You could see a little about my own encounter with the flower of a succulent at my blog, but I don’t seem to be able to post a link. Anyway, search for Lithops

Posted by Jeremy Cherfas on 05/03 at 11:10 PM

Here’s the link to Jeremy’s succulent (and flame-like) flower

Thank you, Jeremy!  Though if echinocereus is a hedgehog with a candle, what pray tell is a “lithop” (and does it have warty ribs)?


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/04 at 02:08 PM

Echino is spiny—not hedgehog. Starfish are echinoderms, spiny skinned. Echidna is the spiny anteater of Australia. echinocereus is spiny candle.

Lithops is a stone-like succulent. Think of lithography (printing that uses a special kind of stone to take the ink).

Posted by Jeremy Cherfas on 05/05 at 02:31 AM

great to see the pooches again.  Wish I could remember their names—but the older one sure has the photo look down.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/05 at 08:27 PM
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