A Prickly Situation
Prickly Pear Cacti Along the Metacomet Trail
October 6, 2007
This page is one of my favorite pages out of the thousands of CTMQ pages.
If you know anything about me, you know that I am a skeptic in the classic sense. I like to learn stuff, and I like to learn factual stuff that goes against generally accepted wrong stuff.
The Legend of Plainville’s Prickly Pear Patch never quite reached the urban legend status of nearby Pygmy Village (CTMQ Visit/Debunking), but it was getting there.
The Metacomet Trail, part of the New England Trail, leaves route 372 and immediately attains the ridgeline. There’s a “view” across the I-84/route 72 mess towards the sandpits over by Sunset Rock State Park. Just off the trail is… here’s what I wrote in 2007.
That, my friends, is wild Connecticut Prickly Pear cactus. Something that in my ignorance, I would never have believed unless I saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I’ve told a few people about this and they simply refuse to believe what is in my pictures. Perhaps this offers more of an authority on the matter.) It’s okay to be surprised, Hoang and I certainly were.
Cool, right? This prickly patch was noted in the CFPA’s Walk Book – the official Metacomet Trail guide! It is mentioned on Wikipedia’s Metacomet Ridge entry. Certainly one of the most unique things in central Connecticut!
In November of 2009, a commenter named Mike wrote this:
My brother and I used to go hiking with the dog up at Pinnacle Mountain, the Nike Missile Base and Hospital Rock back in the late 70’s to early 80’s. He would toss cactus clippings around the area. He reasoned that they could survive year round in the yard at home (New Britain) they should survive out in the woods.
Whatever, Mike. Crazy talk. I paid the comment no mind.
Then, five-and-a-half years later, the page received another comment:
Frank D says
APRIL 27, 2015 AT 9:06 AM
Many years ago, I was given some Eastern Prickly Pear Cacti by a friend who grew them in his garden. They were ostensibly gathered from Martha’s Vineyard where they grow as native plants. In my garden they flourished like weeds. I was fascinated by desert plants at the time and by the terrain of the southwest US. I always admired the rocky out-croppings and dessert-like appearance of the ledges off of then Route 72 (now 372).
Because my Prickly Pear were so prolific and could take root just about anywhere with little attention at all, and because I hate to throw away plants, I decided after thinning my plants to manageable mounds, to try an experiment: I scattered some of the pieces along the ridge mentioned (and in a few other places as well). This was circa 1980’s.
I was delighted to see that the plants had thrived every time I checked on them for years later.
But now I am somewhat dismayed at having set into motion what seems like a huge botanical myth. I would say hoax, but certainly this was unintended.
These particular plants are not “native” to the area, certainly not native to the ledge along Route 372. But attempts by others who have encountered them to explain their presence has spawned fantastic theories of the indigenous nature of the prickly pear in Central Connecticut. (I believe are indigenous to shoreline areas in the Northeast, but not this far inland. For example, I have seen them growing wild along sections of land adjacent to the New Jersey shore – at Sandy Hook, NJ)
So, in an attempt to set the record straight, the Prickly Pear Cacti along the Metacomet Trail off of Rout 372 in Plainville, and in a few other spots as well, originally came from my garden sometime in the 1980s.
For anyone skeptical of this explanation, I still have these plants in my garden and if the DNA ancestry could be traced, I will guarantee that the specimens in question are related to those in my garden.
It is a bit disconcerting to know that what I will call an “innocent experiment in public gardening” could have had such unintended consequences. I am sorry for creating such confusion, but hope that you have enjoyed discovering my secret garden.
FDeF, Bristol, CT
(And if you’re wondering, I have confirmed that Mike is indeed Frank’s brother; at least the initials/last name in their email addresses match up.)
I alerted the CFPA to this and I think the references to the “native” prickly pear were removed from their latest trail guide. Thank you Frank for setting the record straight – and for giving so many a thrill up on that overlook for so many years.
Pygmy Village, Plainville: Not a thing
Prickly Pear Cacti, Plainville: Non native
Never question why I love writing this website!
Auntie Beak saysDecember 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm
Never question, either, why I love reading this website.
Teresa saysDecember 9, 2017 at 9:27 am
Fascinating! When I hiked the New England Trail/Metacomet in 2012 I was on the lookout for cactus, having read it grows on trap rock, and found that same patch. I’d seen it growing on the shore, but that’s the only spot inland I ever saw it. I’m going to forward this info to the CT Botanical Society and the people who do CT DEEP’s. database of endangered and critical species. I did just check my old Sierra Club’s Naturalists Guide to Southern New England, which was written in the 1970s, and it says Prickly Pear grows “only in dry sunny habitats near the coast.” Nothing about trap rock ridges.
Laurent Mullen saysJuly 22, 2019 at 8:25 am
There is Prickly pear cacti growing and thriving on the Branford and Trust Limited Partnership trail in Stony Creek, Branford, CT. I first noticed it during a hike in Autumn a few years ago, when the cactus was in its deflated state, when it dehydrates and flattens turning into a leathery mush. I thought how odd to see what appeared to be dead cactus over a large area along the shoreline. This spring I found much more of it in full bloom on top of an abandoned quarry. How thrilling!
Jon Arnow saysAugust 11, 2021 at 6:21 pm
My family ( wife’s) has had a Native Cactus in the family for over 100 years…My wife’s grandmother had it growing in her rock garden which dates back at least a 100 years..My plants come from this collected plant …Where she got it is lost in time….Heirloom…….I have it growing here and it does reproduce from seed..I .have 22 seedlings that came up this past spring ….first time I have ever grown this from seed…One plant is loaded with seed pods….No thorns , only the light brown buttons of small thorns….Neighbor has one variety( species?) that has large thorns….Verboten here….Offered a piece and refused…I actually lost my plant for over ten years…., it died out..BUT, I had given a piece of it to an old friend who I visited about five years ago….. and he gave me a few plants back…….Lesson learned….Love the plant and the fact that it’s been in the family for at least 100 years….
Bob Melusky saysAugust 12, 2021 at 5:23 pm
I have seen prickly pear on top of Peter’s Rock in North Haven
John K saysApril 6, 2022 at 1:31 pm
The eastern prickly pear may not be native to that area but indeed are native to much of the coastal regions of CT, At one point they were native to the entire coastline and inland as far as soil stayed sandy but human development has largely exterminated their normal range, As of now, they can be seen wild from the NY border as far east as Lyme/Old Lyme though unknown strands may exist further east. They also can be found wild going up the CT river, with some scattered patches at least as north as Deep River and Haddam…. The best place to see them in habitat would be the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point where there are tons of them with a short walk and easy viewing.
Rob saysMarch 15, 2023 at 10:55 pm
I have this growing in my yard. Transplanted from Middletown 10 or more years . Lives outside year round, no special treatments