On the western slope of Colorado you will find populations of a rare ball cactus with lilac flowers that bloom a few days a year when the sun is shining and pollinators are flying.
Each Colorado hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus) flower produces over a hundred seeds and those that germinate produce two cotyledons that look like bunny ears before sprouting a tuft of spines and filling out into mini plants.
At 10 sites scattered across the western slope, a group of volunteers and staff from Denver Botanic Gardens and the Bureau of Land Management brave steep rocky back roads, tiny biting gnats and hot sun, or cold temperatures and sneaky rain storms to track the lives of every individual plant in our plots.
The reason we brave these sometimes harsh conditions is more than the benefit of seeing the beautiful landscape and fascinating plants, although that is a huge perk of the job. It is also more than creating a community of conservationists that join us every year, although I learn something new and hear great stories on every trip. The driving motive behind our efforts is that the data we collect to track the health and persistence of this rare cactus result in conservation actions that ensure this rare species can flourish in areas also hosting oil and gas extraction, recreation and cattle grazing.