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  • Writer's picturekaydee777

In praise of opuntia

Updated: Apr 27

New pads are emerging on the purple prickly pear which was introduced to the front sidewalk as a single pad in early spring a year ago.

Last year that single pad grew 4 new ones. This year there seem to be more than double that though no flowers as yet.

I’m seeing this splendid cactacean phenomenon attracting attention and photography from humans passing on their daily walks. Deservedly. As an aside: a number of properties near me have recently reincarnated as short term rentals (AirBnB). I notice these vistors to the town tend to take neighborhood walks way more than local residents. It’s incentive to work on my kerb appeal project.


I do not know the exact identity of my sidewalk stunner since my original pad was a rescue from in front of a derelict building encountered on my travels. It is possibly Opuntia gosseliniana aka Santa Rita opuntia or Purple (Violet) prickly pear. Apparently stress - cold or drought heightens the colour.

A few months ago a neighbour gave me some big pieces of another rather pretty (in my opinion) opuntia variety in exchange for a share of a load of animal manure. I have heard this colloquially referred to as Bunny Ears cactus or Polka dot cactus. I’m thinking it might be Opuntia microdasys

Now that the pieces have successfully rooted, these polka dot prickly things are being spread around the front sidewalk along with some pads of the black spined, blue green coloured opuntia which I found under the cottonwood outback a few years ago where it was probably sown by birds.


I moved the little foundling to the east driveway around 2021, where it is thriving and showing signs of flowers for the first time in spite of fairly harsh conditions of zero supplemental water, morning shade, afternoon sun and reflected heat.

It is possibly Opuntia macrocentra . If it was from a seed deposited by a bird, it could be a cross of local opuntia. The bees are pretty busy in all cactus flowers during bloom.

I tend to work on the south sidewalk area in small amounts of time around dawn, since it becomes very hot and sunny after sunrise. I am noticing a blooming is immanent from red hesperaloe and yellow Desert Bird of Paradise planted four or five years ago. Everything in this area has to tolerate very little supplemental watering.

Mostly the front sidewalk has become a place to curate a rock collection and growing cactus consciousness.

It has potential to be an expression of true low water, desert gardening. I hate to admit, stated intentions notwithstanding, that I continue to nurture a different, more water needy paradigm of cottage gardening in other areas.

In some ways I wish I had never planted anything except cactus and rocks on this piece of Chihuahuan desert, because I can’t bring myself to destroy the last four years of roots and shoots which is, quite honestly, blooming marvelous right now.

As the season progresses, supplemental watering is becoming necessary. My water bill will begin to reflect this while travel plans will be constrained not just by a multiplicity of medical appointments but also garden watering schedules.

The ties we create to bind us. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my garden, all of it: the fruit trees, flowers and especially eating sugar snap peas straight off the bush, pulling garlic after seven or eight months of nurture and digging for jewel coloured potatoes. It is just that the garden is so dang needy and I’ve made it that way. Who will take care of it when I’m gone?


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