Opuntia humifusa


Prickly Pear Cactus Drawing

One of the coolest things about Illinois Beach State Park is the incredible array of plant species it boasts.  I am fascinated by the different forms that plants can take, and thought a series of pen and ink drawings would serve to highlight that.  Here is my most recent drawing, of Prickly Pear Cactus.  It likes the dunes.

Every single time I set out to draw a plant, even one I think I know well, I learn something about it. For example, all Prickly Pears are not the same.  There are 2 species growing here, although this is the only one I’ve come across.  A friend of mine, a botanist, told me that in one of her botany courses the students were told to go out and find a plant to draw every week through the season.  “You know”, she said, “I’ll never not recognize that plant, regardless of season, after that.”  Drawing forces us to keep looking until we see.

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32 thoughts on “Opuntia humifusa

  1. Jim in IA says:

    It is surprising to me how those cacti are able to survive in spite of the harsh winters at ILBSPark. I always think of cacti as needing hot and dry climes. They must freeze solid in winter with no tissue damage. Some animals can do that, too.

  2. Andrew says:

    This is very fine indeed. I find photographing birds also helps embed critical identification features so I understand how drawing can work for botanists. An excellent exercise.

    • Yes. I must confess that I’m not much beyond, “oh, look at the pretty bird” but as I begin training my camera on them, I am beginning to see the key field marks. I don’t always remember them…

  3. I am a big fan of pen and ink drawings and this is quite nice, Melissa. Absolutely, when drawing one cannot avoid finding the finest details, unless we are a caricaturist :-), which serves well in growing observational skills.

  4. I very much like this drawing and I very much like your last line. 🙂

  5. Anarette says:

    I like the detail in your drawing. It’s not until you look at the details that you notice how beautiful something is.

  6. shoreacres says:

    I noticed that yours is a different species from the one I’m most familiar with here. I didn’t know about Eastern prickly pear.

    I see that it likes the dunes. That may be one reason it manages to survive the winter. Good drainage is critical. The prickly pear here in Texas survives freezes, but they have to be in well-drained land. One of the first things I learned when I started growing cactus was not to water them during the winter. If they take up water into their cells, and then it freezes, the cells burst, and the plant rots.

    I have several pieces of prickly pear on a bedroom shelf just now. I broke them off around January 1. Once I see new growth on the ones outdoors, I’ll stick them in dirt, and away they’ll go. Before long, they’ll be as beautiful as your drawing.

    • That is so cool how you can propagate them like that. I hope you post pictures of them 🙂
      You are right about the sharp drainage they get on the dunes. It is interesting that they will be growing right next to a native Juniper, dogwood. In a swale a few feet away will be growing willows and other water lovers, and on the next dune will be a black oak. A fascinating plant community. If you come out this way let me know and I will take you out there! 🙂 That would be fun.

  7. Drawing must give you insights into a plant that photographers don’t get. Have you done much in the way of comparing a drawing you’ve made of a plant with a photograph you’ve taken of the same plant?

  8. Definitely. For my drawings I go out and take several shots of the plant and I draw from them. I do that because many of the plants grow in sensitive areas and I don’t want to be trampling the area. Well, and it takes me weeks to finish a drawing. What I have found is the initial, “Oh I know this plant” photo very often doesn’t give me enough information about things like leaf attachments. Then I’ll go back out and lie on my belly for the shots I really need, plus sketches. I find out, over and over, that what I think I know is a fragment of what is really there.

  9. The flower is quite beautiful, and the details; shading and light are just wonderful.
    I’ve tried drawing with pen and ink in an art class I took about 20 yrs ago. It wasn’t easy. Less so without the talent you possess.

    Every winter my Hydrangea looks like it’s finally bit the dust, but each spring it comes back. I’m very grateful for hearty plants like these!

    • Me too~every spring I hold my breath to see whether my Magnolia tree has come through.
      You are so kind. Thank you for your wonderful comments!

      • I’ll be over this Spring!! I’ve been envisioning an image with a Magnolia blossom or two for years, but I don’t have a tree myself. We had one in the backyard in the house we had when I was a girl, and I have thought. “how lovely a tree at my house would be”, but then I look for a place to plant one…and there is no room!

        I may have to get brave and ask someone with a tree if I can snip a few blooms one day so I can make the image I have in my head.

      • Awesome~I’d love to have you and share my Magnolia with you 🙂 I know what you mean…I’ve encouraged all the oak babies that squirrels have planted, and things are getting pretty shady and crowded on my little ark!

  10. sheryldevore says:

    Lovely, Melissa. Prickly pear cactus is an awesome species and very rare in Illinois — love coming upon some of those when I’m up at IBSP> wish I could draw like you!

  11. Hi Melissa, I imagine that drawing a flower makes you look very carefully at your subject – the leaves, their placement, their edges, same with the petals and other parts of the plant. As you imprint all of these details, you won’t ever forget this plant. I remember the peculiar yellow of chanterelle mushrooms (along with their scent), so it would be hard to pick up another mushroom by mistake, even if it is similar in color…

  12. bluebrightly says:

    So true. I regret that I don’t draw. You absolutely learn more that way, and it’s so pleasurable. I too a Botanical Illustration Certificate in NY and it was so much fun. Then the camera seduced me! I should figure out a way to do both! (Two Opuntia sp, especially in Illinois? I wouldn’t have thought that!)

    • My confession~ I do not enjoy sketching or painting in the field. I much prefer to take photos and then work on drawings from the several reference images that I take. A pen and ink drawing usually takes me a couple of weeks.
      Yes, amazing to have cactus in Illinois, isn’t it? 🙂

  13. Judy says:

    I love the sketch! The closest I have been to a prickly pear is at a restaurant called The Canyon here in Ft Lauderdale that serves Prickly Pear Margaritas!! Yeah, they are good!! They put the prickly pears in a container of tequila which infuses it with a lovely pinkish color. Not sure what else is involved but it makes a different sort of beverage.

  14. myrsbytes says:

    Lovely drawing :-). The shading is so delicate. And the thousands of little dots are quite touching.

    I like what your friend said about drawing the same plant every week. It is really neat how plants change throughout the year. I used to notice the broad strokes but now I’m starting to see a little more detail. If I started drawing plants, I would definitely notice even more details.

    Thanks for sharing your drawing process. I like that you return to take more photographs, to capture little details that aren’t clear in your initial photos. You really get to know your subject!

  15. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Myr :). I like what you said about the broad strokes~ that was me too!

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