— Tanja Williamson, Outreach/Volunteer Coordinator

You know how you see something that stands out from your regular day to day routine, lets say a unicorn, and then you spot two in one week? Well that’s what happened a few weeks ago when Kathleen Foley, stewardship manager for the San Juan Preservation Trust, shared a photo of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fragilis) she found while monitoring a conservation easement (CE) on Lopez Island. Opuntia_Erin_HenryTwo days later while monitoring a CE on Henry Island, our stewardship coordinator, Erin Halcomb, discovered a beautiful blooming patch of fragile prickly pear. Having never come across the petite plant myself, receiving these photos was pure delight.

A northwest native, this spiky succulent is one of the smallest opuntias belonging to the cactus family (Cactaceae), growing in mats up to 15 cm tall. Fragile prickly pear does not flower very often, but when conditions are right, the green stems boast blooms Kathleen_Opuntia_fragilisof yellow petals almost two inches wide, and hues of red within the center. It prefers dry, open sites on sandy or gravely soils, but Kathleen spotted hers within a few hundred feet of Western red cedar, trees that thrive in moist conditions. I’d call that a unicorn.

Photo credits: single flower – Kathleen Foley; blooming patch – Erin Halcomb