Desert blooming on Gabriola

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Monday, August 20 2012

At 75, Marianne Duggan (seen right and below, Rachelle Stein-Wotten photos) still remembers her first cactus – a Mammillaria her parents bought her when she was eight.
“It was supposed to be an insult because I was sort of a tom boy. My sister got African violets – I got a cactus!”
In the last 40 years she has collected hundreds of cactus and succulent specimens, which cover nearly every surface of her deck on Gabriola.
All are locally grown and Marianne may have the largest private collection on Vancouver Island.
Though one wouldn’t expect cacti to thrive in the Pacific Northwest, Marianne said they do just fine, surviving below freezing temperatures. They get a tent in the rainy season.
Her favourite cacti are Echinopsis, native to South America. “They have the most beautiful flowers.”
Her oldest plant is a Beaucarnea succulent. The 40-year-old stands several feet tall and has grassy green blades and a thick swollen trunk. It can survive without water for three years.
“What I find most interesting about [cacti] are the things you can do with them,” said Marianne. “You can graft them, grow them from seed, you can cross-pollinate them. There’s a never-ending variety of interesting things you can experiment with.”
They come in all shapes and sizes, too. Some, such as Lithops, look like stones, while monstrous cacti mutate and form ‘monstrous’ looking growths. Habits and needs vary also, from night-blooming varieties to ones with long, tubular flowers that can only be pollinated by hummingbirds.
Marianne offers workshops and the public is invited to visit her Cactus House located at 1330 Harrison Way on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
Though a sometimes challenging hobby, Marianne thinks it’s one worth having.
“If you’re passionate about something it will enrich your life. I think cacti have a good potential to make you passionate.”