by Bernice van de Voort
Fred and I were among about 25 cactus fanciers from five societies in Canada and the U.S., doing a mid-May tour of eastern Washington. The trip was organized by Karen Summers, Shoreline, WA. We met at Dixie Dringham’s place in Rock Island, WA. Her adobe-style home is perched high up overlooking Rock Island and appropriately named “Rancho con muchos nopales” (“with many prickly pears”). She has a large desert property, which she has left basically to wild flowers, grasses and with Washington’s own yucca bacata, cylindropuntia imbricata cholla, and beaver tail opuntia basilaris. People from around bring her road kill and the bones and skeletons are dispersed all over the property, making for an interesting “Death Valley” landscape. But the highlight of the visit was her flowering spineless Echinocereus triglochidiatus (photo above). Folks stood around it in amazement.
Dixie led us to an incredibly beautiful Washington State Wild Life area to look for the uncommon Pediocactus nigrispinus hedgehog cactus. We found one on an escarpment overlooking the Columbia River (47.20023, -119.98767), Road 9 NW and Road U near Quincy, WA. Sadly, it had already flowered at the beginning of May, however Dixie provided us with a photo of the species in bloom.
P. nigrispinus can be found in thin, rocky soil on ridge tops at elevations of 1000-4000 feet, in singles or clusters, with globe-like stems that may be flattened on the top. Although they are documented to measure up to 4 3/4 inches, we found some to be much taller at 6-8” and up to 6” across. We were surprised by that size in such a northern state. An additional bonus was a member of the beautiful Lewisia genus, regionally endemic and found in the same rocky areas.
Ron McKitrick’s house in Yakima has a large back yard, which he has turned into a cactus botanical garden. Everything seems to grow. You really do not expect to see Joshua trees in Washington State, but they grow in Ron’s backyard, as does an agave, in flower when we were there. He specializes in cristata forms, produced by trimming every week. A few lucky people went home with cuts of flowering Echinocereus triglochidiatus. A magnificent cholla graces the corner of his house.
Our last visit was to Mitch Cameron’s house in Yakima, a show home, nicely landscaped by Ron McKitrick with succulents and cactus . The emphasis was on individual plants, in a simulated desert setting that complements the modern architecture. In this setting, you really did not feel you were in Washington State but rather in an Arizona-like environment.
We finished our Washington RV trip with a quick visit to the Yakima Arboretum and the cactus patch there. Overall, we were impressed at what can grow cactus-wise in eastern Washington.
(Editor’s note: sorry we haven’t room for all the photos Bernice took during the trip! An extended version of this article was first published in Cereusly Speaking, June 2016)