The Boyce Thompsoni hedgehog cactus, named after the great benefactor of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Ariz., allegedly grows glorious magenta flowers that emit an irresistibly fragrant aroma. It later sprouts showy red fruits, so tasty that early desert settlers raced to get them before animals could eat them. Unfortunately, repeated visits to the arboretum have yet to provide first-hand confirmation of the luscious gifts of this eponymous species.
That’s because there’s a short window to see Echinocereus fasciculatus in action–March through early April. I actually bought one in the parking lot during a visit in the 1980 but could never get it to bloom in Maryland. After two unproductive seasons, in which it repeatedly stung us and shreaded our clothing, it had to go.
Situated in the cactus garden along the gravel and stone trail that winds through the 323-acre facility, the Boyce Thompsoni cactus is remarkably squat considering the large stature of the arboretum’s benefactor. It’s prickly cucumber-like appearance, with a short brown stem and an array of thorns somewhat reminiscent of rodent hair, does conjur visions of hedgehogs. The first part of its genus name, Echinocereus, is Greek for hedgehog, while the second part comes from the word for large candle.
No one readily available at the arboretum in the early 80s was able to explain why the cactus bears Boyce Thompson’s name. Scientific literature on the species is likewise mum. Was the naming of this cactus, which can only be found in certain counties of Arizona, an act of patronage? Or did William Boyce discover the variety himself while walking through the 400-acre tract of desert he bequeathed to the state? The exact circumstances may never be known.