Opuntiax columbiana by Bill Beaston,
edited by Benny Moeller Jensen

Preface by Benny Moeller Jensen:

On the mailing list hardycacti_etc there has been a lot of discussion of the Opuntia hybrids that grows along the Columbia River, one of the contributors where Bill Beaston who has explored the area where the Opuntia x columbiana grows. Bill has been so kind to let me use his photos of the Opuntia species that grows in this area, and he has also provided me with the text that follow the photos. Click on the small pictures to view a larger picture..


Opuntia x columbianaGriffiths

All of the images that are on this page is from State of Washington, and its possession, Millers Island. The Columbia river divides the states of Oregon and Washington. The Columbia Gorge is a national scenic area that runs from just east of Troutdale Oregon, at the western end, and goes to a place called Biggs Junction on the Oregon side, east.

I agree with the assessment that Opuntia x columbiana is a hybrid between Opuntia fragilis and a relic form of Opuntia polyacantha. I have seen one of the points of origin, which I understand was destroyed in the catastrophic flood of 95-96, and then repeated in 96-97 when flood gates were opened on the  John Day dam, in the Columbia River. There is an Island in the River, near  the confluence with the John Day River, which is called Miller's Island. On the Eastern end, on the South side, at the base of a megolithic boulder, there was an area of about 500 sq. ft. which was the habitat of a large form  of Opuntia polyacantha, with hybrids of it and Opuntia fragilis migrating out onto the  Island. This fairly large Island has vast swarms of both Opuntia fragilis, the  small round to ovate stemmed plant, and the long stemmed Opuntia x. columbiana. It  may be of interest to some that this hybrid, at least as it occurs in the Columbia River Gorge, has very pale yellow flowers. For some reason, there are very few colonies of this plant on the Oregon side of the Gorge, but  vast swarms on the Washington side, overlooking the River. Opuntia x. columbiana  flowers profusely. There is one colony near the Township of Wishram, where there occurs plants on the outer edge of the colony, which are more like Opuntia  polyacantha, in that the stems are larger, and wider, and the flowers are darker yellow, and some have red in the inner area. This plant does not  separate at the stem joints as easily as the former.

Below is a series of pictures of Opuntia x columbiana, Fig 1. shows a large relic form of Opuntia polyacantha the S.E. tip of Millers Island, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, which may have been more abundant during the past, before the lower part of the Gorge was filled with water behind the John Day Dam. The stems of this form were often over 6 inches in length. This photo was taken during August, and the stems are showing the effects of dehydration.

Fig. 1. Opuntia polyacantha a relic form of the species.
S.E. tip of Millers Island, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Fig. 2. Opuntia fragilis var. fragilis.
This is the second parent of Opuntia x columbiana. This is the pure Opuntia fragilis.

Fig. 3.
This image shows the progression of the Opuntia x columbiana away to the West of the larger form shown.

Opuntia x columbiana, fig 5
Fig. 4.
This image shows the coloration of the mainland form which Lyman Benson called Opuntia erinacea var. columbiana. I took this photo on the Washington side of the River, above Millers Island, during the Spring time.

Fig. 5.
This image shows the coloration of the flower of the Opuntia polyacantha form which develops or exists alone, This one is from the large swarm of Opuntia x columbiana,  growing along side Highway 14 in Washington state. (fig. 6.)

Opuntia x columbiana, fig 6
Fig. 6.
This is the large swarm of Opuntia x columbiana that I photographed along side Highway 14, in Washington state

Fig. 7.
This image is of the form which I consider to be a reversion back to Opuntia polyacantha from the Opuntia x columbiana which grow beside the highway 14 in Washington, near Wishram (Fig. 6.). This group is on the other side of the road, up the hill side about 100 feet. These plants have larger stem segments, and stand upwards of three or more joints in height. The flower is a richer yellow.

Fig. 8.
This image shows the form of Opuntia which occurs in the extreme North Eastern corner of the State of Oregon, on a hill top which on older maps is called Cactus Mountain. The cactus besides the 67 mm lens cap (at the end of the arrow, on the right side of the image), is a form of Pediocactus nigrispinus, which has not yet been described.

Fig. 9.
This image is a close up of the Pediocactus and the Opuntia. This form of Opuntia is very similar to the one I found on Millers Island, and I believe it somehow was transported down the mountain side into the Snake River, and floated down into the Columbia, where it was deposited in the Columbia Basin, long before the Dams were constructed. It possibly flourished for a long time, spreading throughout the basin, intergrading with the indigenous Opuntia fragilis, leading to the Opuntia x columbiana.  As I indicated earlier in the text, the only remaining form of this relic Opuntia, in the Columbia Basin, was found on Millers Island. But after the flooding of the Basin, behind the John Day Dam, they where destroyed in in the catastrophic flood of 95-96.

Fig. 10.

The last image is a closer view of the Opuntia found in the extreme N.E. corner of Oregon, on the ridge of the mountains overlooking  the Hells Canyon area of the Snake River. Note the elongated stems of this form. This trait is also found in the Columbia Basin form of Lyman Benson's Opuntia erinacea var. columbiana, which some of us now call Opuntia x columbiana.


Postscript by Benny Moeller Jensen:

If any of the readers has or know where to find more information on this or other Opuntia hybrids, I would very much appreciate an E-mail about the plants, or the information.

This page is Copyrighted by Bill Beaston & Benny Moeller Jensen ©. All Photos are by Bill Beaston © 1999.

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