July 18, 2013

Plant of the month: Opuntia fragilis

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Opuntia fragilis

Where would you guess this photo was taken? Colorado? Texas? Arizona?

No, this photo was taken in Wisconsin, about an hour from my home. I'm thinking it might be best not to share publicly exactly where these Brittle Prickly Pear Cacti (Opuntia fragilis) are located, because their status is "threatened" in my state.

It was quite exciting when the fishman and I discovered them growing in the wild during a recent hike--in kind of an unlikely place (at least I didn't expect it).

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They were in a shady forest, growing near rock formations at an elevation above 1,000 feet. I know, I know--that's nothing for those of you who live near mountain ranges. But the elevation and other conditions probably contribute to the perfect habitat for the Cacti.

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Brittle Prickly Pear is native to the lower 48 U.S. states and much of Canada, but now is found west of a line from Ontario in the north to Texas in the south. It's rare in the Midwest. In my state, it's found in thin, dry soil over rock or sand prairies, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

It occurs in a variety of desert, grassland, prairie, and woodland communities, according to the USDA Forest Service. It's found further north than any other Cactus species in the world--growing in northern Alberta near the Arctic Circle. This Cactus is one of several species of Opuntia found in Wisconsin.

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Interestingly, before our hike I had ordered a Prickly Pear Cactus (a slightly different variety) from Cold Hardy Cactus for my new succulent garden. So it was fun to come across this rare species growing in the wild--rarely seen in my state.

Next up--an update on the succulent garden.

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34 comments:

  1. How fun! I probably wouldn't have been looking for the cactus in the shaded woods! Looks like its thriving in a perfect habitat :)

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    1. I've seen Cacti growing in people's gardens and pots around here, but never in the wild. That was fun! It does seem very happy there, doesn't it?

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  2. That's a very special find indeed. Opuntia is amazingly hardy and resilient and takes many amazing forms.

    Good idea to keep it a secret too.

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    1. I didn't realize there were so many species of Opuntia until I started doing a little research. Always fun to learn something new!

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  3. Nice! That would be an exciting find on a hike. For our part of the world, 1,000' is like Mt. Everest.

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    1. Yes, it was fun--especially since I've never seen them growing in the wild here in Wisconsin before. Regarding the elevation, I guess some of our hills are high enough for people from Illinois to come here to ski in the winter. ;-)

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  4. Even with our cold winters, it's amazing to find some of the prickly cactus in the wild. Canada just doesn't seem like the kind of place you would. But I do remember coming across them years ago. Good for you on your find.

    And I love that you respected it.

    Jen

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    1. I recently watched a program about Cacti that grow in Wisconsin. And I knew that we had some here. But I've never come across them during a hike before. That was fun!

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  5. Cacti in the middle of woodland! I have never seen anything like it, somehow these photos seem completely wrong to me, like the cacti were Photoshopped from some Mexican desert photo! How fun to see, I learn something new every time I open a blog :-)

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    1. I know--that surprised me. I don't think I have enough skill with Photoshop to do that. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it either! :)

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  6. I too was amazed when I found out that Opuntia was native to most of the US. It seems like something you'd find only in the southwest. I love the look of these - and of course the blooms - but have no idea how to use them in my garden. Your succulent garden, I think, is the best way to go.

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    1. I agree--it's weird to think they're native here, and that they still grow in the wild in a few areas of the state. I purchased two Prickly Pear 'Black Cat' Cacti (which are similar to the ones shown in this post), and two "Hedgehog" Cacti, which should survive the winter here.

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  7. I would not have guessed, but recently did see a garden with it planted. It really is a plant that would get a lot of people to ask about it. Really surprised to see it growing wild.

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    1. Yes, it's not a common occurrence here, either. And I was surprised at the shadiness of its habitat up on the hill. I guess the one I ordered should be OK, because it gets a mix of sun and shade.

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  8. I have some form of Prickly Pear Cactus here in the gardens. I found it "up North" in Wisconsin many years ago (20+). It does well here up from the shores of Lake Michigan. So nice to see your photos and hear about your discovery. Jack

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    1. Thanks, Jack. I suppose the dry sand soil is good for it. Our soil here in Madison is very lush silt/loam, so not the best for Cacti. But just a bit north of here, the "Central Sands" region hits. That's where I found the Brittle Prickly Pears.

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  9. They look very incongrous in that setting somehow, I was sort of expecting desert and rocks and ...so stereotypical !

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    1. I know--weird, huh?! Nature is surprising sometimes. And to think that the Brittle Prickly Pear is native to much of North America! I didn't realize that!

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  10. I would be shocked to find cactus in the wild. That must have been a thrilling discovery. I admit, however, that I like to visit cacti but would not want to live with them!

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    1. It was one of those fun moments of discovery. :) I'm just starting to get into Cacti gardening. I guess I like them as a small portion of my garden, with a mix of other plants around, too.

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  11. Wow that beats my eastern prickly pear any day....what a great find and glad you didn't tell where it was...

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    1. Eastern Prickly Pear is native here, too, and more common. A lot of people grow it in rock gardens. I've never grown Cacti before, so this is fun!

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  12. I've never seen cacti growing in the wild in the Midwest--what an interesting find!

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    1. Hi Rose: Here's a map of where it's found in Illinois: O. fragilis in Illinois. Apparently it's only in one county, and it's endangered. I think the Eastern Prickly Pear is more common in both of our states.

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  13. how utterly fascinating - a cactus in the Arctic Circle!

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    1. Hi Diana: Yes, near it anyway! It's truly incredible, isn't it?!

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  14. Pretty sure I know where this little gem is located. I'll keep it secret :)

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    1. Yes, I figured you might know where these Opuntias are located, Nick. Maybe you've seen them already?

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    2. I think I have seen this patch many times. Is there a great view from the location where you took the pictures?

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    3. There's a great view very nearby. So I'm sure we're talking about the same place. I hope to get back there next spring--maybe I can catch them in bloom!

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  15. Did you hear that they want to remove over 1/2 of the trees there? They want to turn it into an oak opening ecosystem again. I've done some research and found aerial photographs from the 1940's and it looks much different. I'd really like to see it get accomplished, but only if they do it in a responsible way.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. I just found a few articles about it. That will be interesting!

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  16. Replies
    1. Aren't they great?! They're perfect for the spot and the purpose. ;-)

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