Prickly Pear: A Cactus Grows in Detroit

On May 12, while looking at some Lupines in Eliza Howell Park, I noticed a plant that I had never expected to see here: a Prickly Pear cactus.

It was small, a single pad only 3 – 4 inches high, growing in the wildflower field fairly close to two large oak trees.

While Eastern Prickly Pear is native to locations in the Northeast and the Midwest, including some areas in Michigan, it is not known to grow in the wild in the Detroit area.

When I mentioned the find to others, one of the first questions was how did it get here. Since it is able to tolerate cold winters, it is sometimes grown as a garden plant. It is possible that it came from a garden, either as a deliberate transplant or as a seed that got deposited in this location.

There was no evidence that it had been planted recently, no disturbed ground. It appears to have spent the winter in this location.

I am more interested in finding the answer to a different question: will it survive and thrive here. So I made note of its exact location (single small plants are often hard to relocate) and now stop by regularly.

By the end of May, two things were noticeable: 1) a small section had been broken or bitten off and 2) new growth was evident on two spots on the rim of the pad.

From this view, one growth is in the center by the top and the other is to the left, a little below the top. The one on the left is the faster growing one. Here is a close-up look from May 31.

Prickly Pear pads produce flowers (and fruit) and also grow new pads. Since these new growths first appeared, the one on the side has been growing faster.

On June 4, it looked Iike this.

Since I have never previously had the opportunity to watch a Prickly Pear grow,, I am finding it fascinating to see how and how quickly a single pad develops.

The next two pictures are from June 16, one of the whole plant and one of the emerging new pad on the left side.

However this lone Prickly Pear came to be in Eliza Howell Park, it is now here and it is growing. It will be very interesting to see how well this lone cactus does in this setting. I will be watching.

4 thoughts on “Prickly Pear: A Cactus Grows in Detroit

  1. Many years ago when I was about 14 in Boy Scouts early 1970s), I found a patch of prickly pear growing along the edge of the Rifle River, some distance north of Standish. I was surprised, thinking of cacti as desert plants, but one of the dads told me he’d seen them on Michigan’s Lake Superior shore.

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  2. How interesting! I’ve seen them on Point Pelee, but never in the MI wild before. I had a large (2′ x 3′) cultivated patch at our previous home on the south side of the foundation next to the driveway (it BAKED) that was amazing and full of blooms — often 100+ each summer – with many tuna after. I started with 3 pads and within 5 years it was a thriving patch. Hopefully this little pad continues to grow and fill out. It will shrivel in the winter and if it survives will pop up again next year.

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