2020—Prickly Pear

Every kid growing up in Santa Rosa, California in the 1950’s toured Luther Burbank Gardens while in grammar school and learned about this pioneering horticulturist who, in 1875 declared of Santa Rosa, “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned.” Burbank developed countless botanical innovations that even today have a profound impact on agriculture and our daily lives. McDonald’s French fries (Burbank Russet Potato), a gardens filled with flowers (Shasta Daisy), and Freestone Peaches were a few of Burbank’s efforts. The one that has stood out in my mind for more than 60 years, though, is the spineless cactus developed for grazing cattle. I remember staring in awe at the huge, spineless pads of the Burbank Opuntia although I don’t think I’d ever seen a spiny cactus in real life at the time. I’d probably only seen them in cartoons and on Walt Disney’s Painted Desert but the ouch-factor of cactus spines was duly impressed on me so for some reason, I was impressed with his developing a spineless variety. Fast forward many decades and my neighbor planted a cactus between our homes. I never really looked at it until this summer when it started to bloom and grow fruit. On close inspection, I realized it is one of the spineless varieties of prickly pear and all my Luther Burbank memories flooded back. And, while it is a spineless variety, the prickly pears themselves are still covered with tiny sharp needles. I don’t think anyone will be stealing the fruit.