Friday, June 5, 2015

Metacomet Trail Prickly Pear:Sub-urban Legends

I've recently become aware that I was the cause of a widespread botanical myth in these parts.

(All the photos in this post were taken by me a few weeks ago when I went to check out how my old Prickly Pears were doing.)

A blogger named Steve writes Connecticut Museum Quest a website/blog about things of interest and particularly hiking trails in Connecticut. I came across a post of his where he describes a hike on the Metacomet Trail and posts a few photos of prickly pear cactus:

That, my friends, is wild Connecticut Prickly Pear cactus. Something that in my ignorance, I would never have believed unless I saw it with my own eyes. (In fact, I’ve told a few people most of whom simply refuse to believe what is in the three pictures above. Since it’s so easy to access, they can go check it out themselves.) Perhaps this offers more of an authority on the matter.) It’s okay to be surprised, Hoang and I certainly were.

I felt compelled to comment:

Many years ago, I was given some Eastern Prickly Pear Cacti by a friend who grew them in his garden. They were ostensibly gathered from Martha’s Vineyard where they grow as native plants. In my garden they flourished like weeds. I was fascinated by dessert plants at the time and by the terrain of the southwest US. 
I always admired the rocky out-croppings and dessert-like appearance of the ledges off of then Route 72 (now 372). 
Because my Prickly Pear were so prolific and could take root just about anywhere with little attention at all, and because I hate to throw away plants, I decided after thinning my plants to manageable mounds, to try an experiment: I scattered some of the pieces along the ridge mentioned (and in a few other places as well). This was circa1980s. 
I was delighted to see that the plants had thrived every time I checked on them for years later.
But now I am somewhat dismayed at having set into motion what seems like a huge botanical myth. I would say hoax, but certainly this was unintended.
These particular plants are not “native” to the area, certainly not native to the ledge along Route 372. But attempts by others who have encountered them to explain their presence has spawned fantastic theories of the indigenous nature of the prickly pear in Central Connecticut. (I believe are indigenous to shoreline areas in the Northeast, but not this far inland. For example, I have seen them growing wild along sections of land adjacent to the New Jersey shore – at Sandy Hook, NJ)
So, in an attempt to set the record straight, the Prickly Pear Cacti along the Metacomet Trail off of Rout 372 in Plainville, and in a few other spots as well, originally came from my garden sometime in the 1980s.
For anyone skeptical of this explanation, I still have these plants in my garden and if the DNA ancestry could be traced, I will guarantee that the specimens in question are related to those in my garden.
It is a bit disconcerting to know that what I will call an “innocent experiment in public gardening” could have had such unintended consequences. I am sorry for creating such confusion, but hope that you have enjoyed discovering my secret garden.
FDeF, Bristol, CT
To which Steve replied:

You, sir, have written my favorite comment on my site in a long, long time. (About the prickly pear in Plainville.)  I love being the place where these stories are shared, so thank you very much.  

As you probably gleaned, I was still skeptical about the “native-ness” of that patch even after finding stuff online about how it was possible.  As you may or may not know, your rogue planting is in the official CT Walk Book (At least I think it is) and I can tell you with certainly it is referenced in a few other CT hiking resources. 

As a rational thinker, I much prefer the truth – and your story is infinitely better than perpetuating the myth of their nativity.  

Also, I checked out your blog – great that you guys are ‘getting out there’ and promoting our woods and trails as well.  And next time I’m out and cross paths with a huge group of men, I’m just going to start yelling, “Frank! Frank!” to meet you and thank you in person.(He is referring to the post with Connecticut Pride Hikers a few weeks back)

Thanks for reading, 


P.S. For many years I hosted a "Cactus Blossom Party" when I lived in New Britain. The blossoms always coincided (more or less) with Gay Pride celebrations at the end of June. Back then I had a very nice cactus garden that enjoyed a lot of sun and heat. Now, in Bristol, not so much. Here the flowers usually bloom in early July - about 2 weeks later than in New Britain.

The Beautiful Cake was made by
a Neighbor - a gay guy, of course

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful and fascinating. I was just in a nearby (here) public park, an amazing public park. The prickly pears were spectacular (called Chumbera). Are they from your garden?



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