All photographs by Greg Krehel
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Right: ‘Lady Evelyn’ flowers Left: ‘Apricot Glow’ flowers. 150 photographs were focus stacked to create this final image.
All photographs by Greg Krehel

Cactus Flowers: Mother Nature’s Fireworks

Did you know that cacti can bloom? Yes, those prickly green plants burst out some of the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen. For photographer Greg Krehel, these crazy cactus flowers have become an obsession.

“Since I was a kid I’ve always loved succulents and cacti. One year I ended up at a local garden shop and picked up [a] cactus for my collection. A couple years later it put out these awesome flowers, unlike others I had seen. It just kept blooming. It really went to town.”

Note: Many of these cacti are hybrids that were bred and cultivated by different individuals, hence the unusual names.

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Antimatter flowers
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Arizona Sunset flowers

After seeing these stunning blooms, Krehel decided he needed to know more about the breed of cactus he had bought. He discovered it was a type of Echinopsis, cacti that are native to South America. Krehel says, “It turns out mine was a ‘snoozer’ compared to other varieties out there, even though I thought it was fantastic.”

Krehel was hooked. He started buying more blooming cacti and realized he wanted to find a way to capture the flowers’ incredible beauty. Eventually he developed a method of focus-stacking images so that every part of the frame would be sharp, making every little detail visible.

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Ten hours of Eroica flowers
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24 hours in the life of ten Daydream flowers

Once he mastered supersharp composites, Krehel started testing out time-lapses. The flowers usually bloom for about eight hours, so a large degree of movement is compressed into a few seconds. It’s important to know when the blooms will start, so Krehel becomes a de facto babysitter while waiting for the plants to form their buds.

Much of the minute movement shown in the time-lapses is invisible to the naked eye. “We just don’t have the ability to notice the subtle changes,” he says. “But then you see the way the flowers will ‘double open’—where they open, close, and then spring open again. The flowers are never really still—they’re constantly moving; the pace slows down sometimes, but it doesn’t ever stop.”

He continues, “These photographs aren’t art photography—they’re more scientific. I want to take these mind-blowing flowers and let them speak for themselves.”

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Nine hours of a Cassandra flower blooming
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Fascination flowers

It doesn’t take long to realize that Krehel has fallen head over heels for these incredible flowers.

“I’ve taken to calling them freaky flowers because of the stark contrast between the flowers and what they’re growing on. Cacti are spiky, thorny, and have crazy body shapes, yet you’ve got these masses of flowers coming off of them.

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Four Yes flowers blooming over eight hours

“I’ve always respected the flowers, but you respect it all the more when you see the energy and the dance that these things do.”

To see a high definition supercut of Greg’s cactus flowers blooming, watch this video:

You can view more of Greg Krehel’s work on his website, Echinopsis Freak.