Tobush Fishhook Cactus

Share in my adventurous journey of finding the plants that are rare and endangered and creating their portraits. The biggest challenge is not only locating their natural or protected habitat and co-ordinating with people that can lead you to their sites, but to time your visit to capture the plant’s bloom. If possible, I return many times so that I can record the cycle of growth through to its seed production as well. It is illegal to remove the plants or any parts, so all documentation must be done on site and there is careful monitoring! Meet these people who take time out of their busy schedule to lead an artist to a solo plant; I hope my art measures up to their dedication to conservation!
Ancistrocactus tobuschii, Family: Cactaceae, Global/State Rank: G3T3S3, Federal/State Status: Endangered, Global/State Range: Edwards Plateau of Texas in Bandera, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble Kinney, Real, Uvalde, and Val Verde counties

This tiny (up to 2″ diameter) cactus tend to grow secretly nestled with grasses, spikemoss, and in rock fractures. Often this species can only be pinpointed when it blooms its delicate fully opened yellow flower. On March 6-8th 2006 we took our camper and went to the South Llano River State Park where Gilbert Guzman and Jackie Poole graciously let us join them and their TPWD crew at the adjacent wildlife management area for the monitoring of this cactus that has been on the endangered list since 1979. In the 1997 count there were 400 plants – in the results of this monitoring there were 149 plants (with only 85 that are left from the original 1997 count) and there was 70% fruit production.


Could you find this plant if it was not blooming? This is the challenge ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere a crew of 20 equipped in snake boots and on the back of pick-up trucks spent two day tagging the plants in the park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGilbert Guzman of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department organizing the crew.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJackie Poole of TPWD before taking off to the fifty 400 square metered plots staked out in the Walter Busch Wildlife Management Area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA10 people sweep across a side, each taking a 2 meter swath, walking forward inch by inch poking at grass and sometimes examining at ground level.


A red flag is placed to mark the plant and then Gilbert and Jackie record the plant’s information, GPS positioning, and tag it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt made an impact on me when we came across previously tagged plants which were nowhere to be found. Here are 4 such tags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe plots that my husband and I monitored didn’t have any Tobusch cactus so after all the plots were done, Mark Traweek graciously took us back by GPS to blooming plants that they found earlier, such as #365.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA#297 is already starting to fruit. This cactus’ flowering times may start as early as January going thru till March. The spines are yellowish, sometimes red-tipped, turning gray with age and covered with microscopic hairs. There are clusters of shorter spines with the one longer lower central spine in each cluster hooked and if you run your finger underneath, it will hook you!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is the one I chose to paint (#1013) and you can see how small it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gamma grass with its curling blades do an excellent job of camouflaging the cactus. It is almost impossible to find if it’s not blooming – and the blooms only last a day or two! So, I was lucky to have a specimen with several blooms.


The first day was almost over so I worked quickly in graphite and colored pencil returning the next day to do the watercolor. The blooms were slightly different for it was a cloudy day.

Photo Dec 10, 11 17 09 AMI came back again just to do a quick sketch of the closed blooms.


Above is the watercolor portrait in its actual size 3″x3″ and was accepted in a juried exhibition called”A Closer Look at Cactus & Succulents”; Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Ironwood Gallery (April 4-June 7, 2009)


   Learn, Give Thought, Be Inspired, Take Action……Bring Back Balance

Lotus McElfish                                                                    

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