A hike on the bluffs above Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island, Washington reveals one of natures quirks, a cactus that grows in the land normally thought of as lush rainforest. Brittle cactus, opuntia fragilis, exists in a few, isolated locations shielded by the rainshadow of the Olympic peninsula. Rare, this cactus is found here, along the steep grassy bluffs below the hiking trail and in other locations bereft of moisture like the west side of San Juan Island and near Seguim. Recent changes in the climate have allowed the cacti’s enviornmental niche to expand where it now threatens the dense, over-logged forests of cedar, hemlock and fir. Climatologists have predicted that global warming will eventually allow the seaside variety of prickly pear to supplant the boreal rainforest from as far south as the redwoods of northern California northward to Seward, Alaska.
A sad update, 4/2017: The small cactus patch at the juncture of the Ebey’s landing trail and the bluff has been dug up and removed, presumably for someone’s garden. Hopefully there are other patches in less accessible spots along the bluff that will eventually re-propagate and allow visitors to this unique spot to appreciate one of nature’s beautiful quirks.