Sunday, July 31, 2022

Hearty Prickly Survivor


She's a survivor.

This prickly pear cactus nearly died several years ago in a rare (for here) winter storm, which left parts of Portland OR under inches of snow-ice-snow for days. We get a little snow, we get some ice, but not usually for very long. People laugh at us because longtime Portland residents can get a bit panicked if there is a forecast of inches of snow. 

But people not from here should understand: we don't get very much or very often. The snow might come in a day here or there in winter. It might leave a dusting or an inch. If there is more, for a day or two, it is generally accompanied by ice and/or freezing rain on the transition back to our typical milder winters. So, when we get actual winter weather, a lot of people don't know what to do - how to drive, for example, and many people have no experience in the stuff. So, yes, sometimes we panic a bit.

And sometimes with reason.

That time about five years ago, it came down hard and long and parts of the city were stalled and stuck for several days.

This beauty was much smaller than now, though still a good few feet in diameter and the tallest paddles were probably two or more feet high. Before the snow storm hit, we assumed, with everyone else, that it was going to be another situation of Pacific Northwest Snowpocalypse warnings, followed by an inch or so out in our east part of town, maybe two inches in the West Hills and bare pavement out near my work near Hillsboro. 

So it was a surprise when the snow started and didn't stop. For a long time. For days. 

So this beauty was in our front yard. This storm was accompanied by freezing rain and layers of snow, ice, freezing rain, repeat. The prickly pear was covered in ice and so beautiful in the blankets of snow.

Several major paddles were lost when things started to thaw a few days later. The poor plant looked a bit scraggly and tired. And still very much alive.

It grew little by little, sprouting new buds turned to paddles and grew and grew. There were no flowers for a couple of years and some of the older paddles which survived were scarred; some are still there, with holes from the very cold and frozen winter.

But the prickly pear is now over five feet tall in places with a diameter of probably six feet or a little more at the widest. 

This is the first bloom this summer. And she is poised to show many more. There is an abundance of new paddles alongside the flower buds. 

We truly weren't sure if she would survive that winter storm. She did. And is thriving.

A note to those who don't know: if you've never touched a prickly pear cactus paddle, don't be fooled by their soft appearance and the lack of spikey thorns. I knew that and I was still surprised. Last fall we have a heavy windstorm, which batted the cactus around and a few paddles and one branch separated, fell on the ground. I was picking up some yard debris and, looking at the paddles, they did indeed seem harmless. I didn't have on gloves. I picked up a couple of the paddles and in seconds regretted it.

The "fuzz" on the side looked like soft fur, but it wasn't. Each was like a needle poking my fingers and my palms. I spent a long time with a flashlight and tweezers, pulling out those very fine hairs.

The prickly pear cactus is a survivor. Do not judge her by her appearance.