Dreaming Of Flowers In The High Desert

By Mary H. Dyer | March 11, 2021
by Mary H. Dyer
March 11, 2021

My husband and I come from very diverse backgrounds. When we met, I had lived my entire life in rural Eastern Oregon. He spent most of his 38 years in and around New York and New Jersey. He bicycled west one summer and decided to stay. Several years ago, we packed up and moved to Phoenix, Arizona where we lived for two years, until I was homesick for the Northwest. 

I loved Arizona, and I was constantly fascinated by the huge variety of plants that had adapted to life in the Sonoran Desert, especially the cactus — saguaro, organ pipe, cholla, barrel cactus, and so many more. Visits to the Desert Botanical Garden were a highlight of our time there.

High Desert Flowers

When we moved back to the high desert, we purchased a house on the edge of my tiny hometown. The yard had been sadly neglected, but I was surprised to find several large yuccas that produced beautiful spires of creamy, pale yellow blooms in midsummer. 

In all the years I lived in Eastern Oregon, I never realized yuccas would grow here. Who knew? The secret to growing succulents in this climate, I learned, is well-drained soil. Hardy types of cactus can tolerate cold, but they are likely to rot where conditions are cold and wet.

As we gradually pull things into shape, we try to think of ways we can have an attractive, deer-friendly, low-maintenance, water-wise garden. I wondered what other types of cactus would survive our hot, dry summers and zone 5-6 winters, so I consulted the oracle (Google). Here are a couple of the toughest:

Cold Hardy Cacti

Several species of Opuntia tolerate extreme cold. For example, Opuntia fragililis, also known as brittle pricklypear; and Opuntia polycantha, or more commonly, Plains prickly pear. If these hardy plants tolerate life in the Midwest and certain Canadian provinces, they should do well in our comparatively mild climate. 

Speaking of Opuntia, I read that members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition ran across the plant on their journey west, and their logs indicated both complaint and admiration. 

Echinocereus, which most of us know as hedgehog or porcupine cactus, is a large genus of clumping cactus with incredibly beautiful blooms of orange, pink, or yellow. Several species of Echinocereus are hardy in cold, dry conditions, some hardy enough to withstand temps of -10 to -23 F. (-23 to -30 C.). 

I’ve located a nursery in Bend, which is only 130 miles from here. I can’t wait to get started!

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