Prickly Pear Cactus on the Banks of the Peace

Report of Progress on the Explorations and Surveys Up to January, 1874

By Sir Sandford Fleming, Charles Horetzky, John Macoun, Marcus Smith, James H. Rowan, Walter Moberly, Alexander Mackenzie, Henry Spencer Palmer, Alfred Richard Cecil Selwyn, George Vancouver

Wow, what a mouthful, both the title and the authors list!  As it says, this was a compilation of progress and observations on the  proposed route of the Canadian Pacific Railway, presented to the Governor General.  You can find the whole report here.  The Peace Country was on the route, of course, and local flora was duly recorded.

Perhaps surprisingly, many of the native prairie plants are still familiar to us today, nearly 140 years later.  Mentioned in the report are rhinanthus crista-galli (yellow rattle) Service Berries (saskatoons), Prairie Anemone (crocus), rubus nutkanus (thimbleberry) geum triflorum (Old Man’s Whiskers or Prairie Smoke), and silver bush, chief food of the prairie chicken.


Silver Bush

Surveyors of the time were surprised to find Prickly Pear Cactus growing on the banks of the Peace River.  Many people today, even those who live in the Peace Country, likewise would not expect a desert plant to be growing so far north.  Once you sit on one while exploring the hills, however, you will be convinced that they do, in fact, exist and even thrive on the dry, sunny face of the Peace River hills.  Page 83 of the 1874 could have been written this summer (except there is no longer a Padre at Dunvegan):

At Dunvegan, made a special enumeration of the flora in the vicinity, but the season was getting so late that many fragile species had disappeared.  One novelty was found on the grassy slopes in rear of the fort – Prickly Pear [Opuntia].  This was the first of the Cactus Family I had seen in the country, and was not prepared to find it in latitude 56º 8′ which is that of Dunvegan.  This settled the question of the aridity of the exposed slopes of Peace River, and the Padre confirmed it by telling me that irrigation is actually necessary to the raising of good garden stuff on the terrace on which the fort is built.  The fort is on the left bank and the land slopes to the sun.

The Prickly Pear Cactus displays a most beautiful, delicate bloom when conditions are perfect.  This year has probably been too wet for a sighting, but we can settle for a picture.  The Prickly Pear Cactus in the hills near Dunvegan:


Have you spotted a rare plant or animal in the Peace Country?  Do tell!  Please send your photos or information to or leave a comment.  Let us all share in the wonder of our natural setting.

This entry was posted in history, nature, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Prickly Pear Cactus on the Banks of the Peace

  1. I’ve seen it in Montana too. Same kind of prairie landscape, and in the little rises between the fields you might see this very painful plant. I’m surprised it’s in the Peace Country though.

  2. Lise Hélie says:

    February 9th, 2015
    Yes, I was amazed to discover Prickly Pear cactus in Peace River!
    I still have a question in my mind… the space where I saw those cactus and how they were growing all in rows, laid down by steps on the south side of a hill puzzled me the most.

    It was in fall, I was travelling North approaching the town, Rivière de la Paix, seated each side of the Peace River, the two parts of the town joint by a bridge. Just before going down the road to Rivière de la Paix township, I stop at the top of the hill to admire the incredible beautiful 180 degree view of the valley! From there I could see the South river side covered by spruce trees or conifers and the North side looked sandy first, but then looking carefully, I saw rows, on the side of the mountains, like if somebody had cultivated those difficult abrupt terrains…

    I went down, crossed the river and drove along the north side on a small road just touching the foot of the mountains. When I reached the hill where were those integrating rows, I stopped and climbed up to see that closer. There were steps, from the bottom to the top, all laid on rows! On the top of the steps was growing grass, on the walls though, where it might be dryer, were growing C A C T U S !!!

    My question is: How those steps were formed? Were there trees growing there, first and people took them all? Then the soil becoming mobile, the rain made some parts going down allowing step formations?

    I would be very grateful if some knowledgeable person from Rivière de la Paix township answered me!

    Thank you very much, eager to know,
    Lise Hélie, Edmonton.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s