Hardy Cacti at Swarthmore
In 2003, the Scott Arboretum acquired a large collection of cacti species native to the mountainous and rocky areas of the western United States. Many of these cacti have turned out to be perfectly hardy and very ornamental in Swarthmore.
For example, Opuntia polyacantha, plains prickly pear, is native from North Dakota to Texas and throughout all the western states. We have used it in both a gravel garden at the Science Center and in a permanent container at Pearson Hall. Many of the original plants we got in 2003 were special color selections including an orange-flowering form of Opuntia polyacantha pictured here.
Another one of the 39 different cactus taxa that has proven to be perfectly hardy at the Scott Arboretum is Opuntia polyacantha var. arenaria. The El Paso prickly pear is native to western Texas and New Mexico and has striking lemon-yellow flowers. Like the other species of native American cacti growing at the Science Center, El Paso prickly pear makes a unique evergreen groundcover. It can be used effectively in your garden as a ground cover in poor, gravely soils, but also spilling out of permanent containers, as seen at Pearson Hall.
Don’t be afraid to try some prickly pear in the sunny, dry corner of your garden. Visit the Scott Arboretum to see the array of Opuntia that you can grow.