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  • Christopher Stephens, MSc

Canadian Cactus Craziness

Cacti in the Pacific Northwest? Yes! Tread Carefully


Native Cacti thrive on the rocky shores of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada.


Canadian Cacti? Yes! It's a thing, and you definitely don't want to be caught hiking barefoot or even walking by the beach or meadows in certain cactus hotpots! Cacti are fascinating but painful to unexpectedly encounter in the wild. While Canada may be associated with maple trees, prairie grass and fir trees in popular imagination, some of the most unexpected corners of the country host formidable cacti specimens.


Known widely as Fragile prickly pear, the iconic native cacti of British Columbia find the majority of their distribution in select spots within warmer biogeoclimatic zones of the Western Canadian province. The southern coastal lowlands of Eastern Vancouver Island and southern Gulf Islands which lie in a rainshadow region, the arid Okanagan Valley with its cold desert habitats and surprisingly, a limited occurance zone near Dawson Creek in Eastern BC host these spiky plants.


The spines are exceptionally well developed and can deliver an extraordinarily painful poke should a curious hiker touch the plant. The cacti pears are succulent botanical water storage systems to help the plant cope with arid conditions, akin to a Water-holding Frog. Yet the cacti would be prime target for any hungry or thirsty animal species in an arid environment. The formidable spines thus serve as a counterbalance to the trait that gives the cacti sustenance but otherwise makes them attractive to foragers.


These Fragile prickly pear cactus pictured were photographed nestled in natural ledges of rock above the remarkably rugged shoreline of Vancouver Island within the City of Nanaimo. The Cacti can be seen growing just a few meters from the crashing waves, seaweed and starfish, contrasting with views of seals, seabirds and the city of Vancouver visible just across the Salish Sea. No, the author could not resist touching these stunning seaside cacti, and yes, the spines were much more uncomfortable to encounter than any thorn.

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