UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County

Prickly Pear in Bloom at Peña Adobe

There is a magnificent old cactus garden located in Peña Adobe Regional Park, just west of Vacaville, CA. I was in awe when I first discovered the garden, noticing that some of the cactuses were huge with thick wood-like trunks. It was obvious that these gentle giants had survived and thrived with the passing of many years. I came to know these sharp and prickly beauties up close a few years later.

A team of UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners from Solano and Yolo counties got together back in 2021 to work on a renovation project at the Peña Adobe Park (see my March 2022 blog on the Willis Linn Jepson Native Garden Renovation Project for background). The cactus garden stood next to the renovation project and we could see that it also needed some tender-loving care. The cactus plants were still doing well, but the plot was overgrown with the invasive Spurge, Euphorbia. Spurge can be a wonderful CA native plant addition to a garden.  However, this variety of spurge and the conditions at Peña Adobe gave it a strong opportunity to take over the garden.

So, my fellow master gardeners and I decided to ‘purge the spurge' that rooted between the cactus to bring this garden back to its magnificent glory. While we were working on the garden, many visitors came by and peppered us with questions about the different plants. We had to do some research to learn more about this garden and the particular cactus variety to become better prepared to provide information when we returned for the next phase of our project.

We first approached the Peña Adobe Historical Society to search for information on the cactus garden's origins. There is no detailed information on the cactus grove, but we did find numerous photos of the garden dating back to the 1960s, so it could be 60+ years old! How interesting to try to imagine the cactus living there for so many years and witnessing generations of park visitors.

We also learned that the cactus in the garden is called Prickly Pear Cactus, Optunia.  Prickly Pear cactus is native to North and South America. It is extremely tough and drought-resistant, so this little grove has been able to endure the valley droughts. The cactus can grow up to 20 feet tall, and some of the species can have an 80-year lifespan.

The Prickly Pear Cactus has large oval-shaped pads that are made of flat and compressed stems. These stems store water and can produce colorful flowers. These flowers are mostly yellow, but some can also be white, pink, and red. The cactus flowers eventually mature into a fruit that is a great source of food and hydration for wildlife, such as coyote, bats, doves and woodpeckers.

While weeding the cactus garden, we found a few broken pads on the ground.  The garden does not have a steady water source for re-planting, so I brought a few to my home garden with hopes that they would survive with daily care. It has now been several years and I just discovered, with great glee, that some of the cactuses in my garden are producing flowers! I took a quick drive to the Peña Adobe cactus garden to see how the ancient clutch was doing and found that they are also flowering!

This brings joy to my heart, standing here as a witness to another season of colorful growth in this very old garden. If you have yet to visit this garden, or have not seen it when the Prickly Pear cactus are blooming, I encourage you to head out there now!

1 Prickly Pear Cactus Pena Adobe - A.Alvarado
1 Prickly Pear Cactus Pena Adobe - A.Alvarado

2 Blooming Cactus 2 - PPashby
2 Blooming Cactus 2 - PPashby

3 - rehomed cactus pads in my garden 2 - A. Alvarado
3 - rehomed cactus pads in my garden 2 - A. Alvarado

4 - rehomed cactus pads in my garden - A. Alvarado
4 - rehomed cactus pads in my garden - A. Alvarado

5 - Blooming Cactus
5 - Blooming Cactus

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2024 at 3:14 PM

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