Cacti an Endangered Species in North Carolina

A tour of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University led to a surprising find–Opuntia Compressa (Prickly Pear Cactus) is a North Carolina native.

opuntia-compressa-prickly-pear-cactus-blogEven though Raleigh’s heat and humidity made it feel like I was walking through mud, the Sarah P. Duke garden tour was a beautiful introduction to “the crown jewel of Duke University.”

I expected to see lush gardens, but I didn’t expect to see a familiar face. While walking through the native gardens, I saw something that I grow in my own front yard: a prickly pear cactus.

I had no idea that cacti grew in North Carolina. Unfortunately that’s true. This variety is one of the endangered species grown in the special Steve Church Endangered Species garden.

It’s not the heat, but the humidity that probably placed this native on the endangered list.

The Duke gardens sit on a 55-acre site that was once a debris-filled ravine. Planting began in 1934 with a donation from Sarah P. Duke.

Now more than 300,000 visitors each year amble down the paths to admire the formal terrace garden, the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants and the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

black-magic-blogI wasn’t surprised to see the fabulous landscape design and the variety of lush plantings.

But the tropical plants in the Terrace Garden were particularly intriguing. My favorite combination was the Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ (Elephant Ears) planted with the bright chartreuse leaves of tall coleus. That was one spectacular pairing…in size, shape and color.

At the bottom of the terrace garden was a lovely pond with a plant I know a bit about: Victoria water lilies (Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana).

I became interested in these huge water lilies when I interviewed Nancy Styler for a story I wrote several years ago.

Nancy is the co-founder of the Victoria Conservancy and is a source for many of the Victoria water lilies supplied to botanic gardens around the country–maybe even these.


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Wow that combination of colocasia and coleus is spectacular! I’m jealous of your trip – I love to visit gardens in other locales. What’s on tap for today?

Hey, Carol–This morning started with an early morning photo shoot at a fabulous place called Plant Delights Nursery and a trip to the Raleigh Farmers Market. Tonight we’re going to the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University. Who knew having plant fun could be so much work!

i have a cactus from florida and live in michigan. i keep it inside by a window and have noticed new growth over the last month. the shoots are like 6-10 inches long, but not round. it appears to be a prickly pear or spinieless type cactus, but i don’t know. will the shoots ever round out?

Hi Jeremy:

Thanks for getting in touch; unfortunately, I don’t believe I can answer your question based on this info and I’d hate to guess. Why not get in touch with your local extension office? Volunteers there may be able to help you.

I live in southern Randolph county NC and the prickly pear grows healthy here it will invade your lawn lay flat on the ground for the kids to step on

Ouch! Sorry to hear this cactus isn’t an endangered species in your yard.

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