Skip to content

Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Cactus Nursery Exceeds Expectations

Prickly pear cactus commonly found within the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.

Exciting news! The cactus nursery managed by Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) in OC Parks’ Silverado Canyon has exceeded expectations, with the cacti growing faster than anticipated. Thanks to the implementation of innovative methods, IRC staff were pleasantly surprised with the success and rate of growth for these otherwise slow-growing species. The success means cacti will be ready to harvest for restoration projects sooner than expected, helping to support cactus scrub habitat restoration efforts on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. 

The population of coastal cactus wren has decreased regionally in recent years due to habitat degradation, urban development and wildfires. To help rebuild the coastal cactus wren population, the team recognized the importance of restoring the prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) and cholla (Cylindropuntia spp.) cactus species, essential for the bird to nest. From there, the idea for the cactus nursery arose to provide more cactus pads to plant at habitat restoration projects. The Nature Conservancy generously funded the project and IRC broke ground in the summer of 2023 with the planting of cactus pads and container plants from both species. Over the past few months, IRC staff have been surprised by the speed of growth. As a result, they will be able to begin harvesting pads from the plants for restoration projects within the next one to three years, ahead of schedule. While it may still take five years for the plants to fully mature, the opportunity to harvest some pads sooner than expected is exciting news!  

In order to ensure the success of this project, IRC staff have implemented innovative methods. The location of the nursery, previously an old access road in Silverado Canyon, required extensive groundwork. The densely packed surface needed heavy equipment to dig deeper into the ground to break up the soil. Compost was then added, so the soil was more suitable for planting. IRC’s partner, OC Waste and Recycling, provided the compost from their greenery facilities. IRC credits the compost for the initial growth spurt during the project’s early stages. As expected, winter has slowed down the growth temporarily, but they anticipate the cactus to thrive again in the coming spring and summer months when there is more sunlight prevalent.

The long-term goal of the cactus nursery project is to establish a reserve of cacti that can be utilized where and when needed throughout the Landmarks. The restoration of Orange County’s native wildlands remains a top priority and the success of the cactus nursery project is a big step towards IRC’s goals.