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.
Even 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.
I 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.