Several trips to the Boyce Thompson Southwestern arboretum provided no evidence that the cactus named after my great uncle, Echinocereus boyce thompsonii, actually blooms. I even bought one in the visitors center and brought it home to Maryland, where it failed to bloom over several years but did succeed in ruining a couple nice shirts. The experiences led to speculation that the cactus may not actually give rise “to magenta flowers that emit an irresistible aroma,” as one book describes.
Turns out this speculation was completely misplaced. Recent visual evidence sent to this blogger’s attention indicates that the rare Boyce Thompson hedgehog cactus actually does bloom. The pictures on this page were taken Sylvia Lee a couple years ago during a visit to the arboretum in the late March/early April time period when the flowers appear.
Lee can also shed light on another mystery surrounding this cactus — how it came to bear the name of my great uncle. Unfortunately, the squat cactus, which grows in a very narrow geographic range, was not discovered by William Boyce Thompson, who established the arboretum and was involved in selecting many of the plants. It was discovered by a plant collector named Charles Russell Orcutt, who was hired to collect plants for the arboretum in the mid 1920s.
“One day when Orcutt was at the arboretum he noticed a hedgehog variety he had never seen before,” writes Lee, who is working on a history of the arboretum. “He took a specimen with him and studied all the written descriptions at that time of hedgehog cacti. Sure enough, this cactus was not included.”
Orcutt wrote and published the official description of the cactus in Cactography 1926. “He named it boyce thompsonii because he noted his first specimen on the grounds of the arboretum and partly to honor William Boyce Thompson,” writes Lee.