Forensic anthropologist has an overgrown love for cacti

Ernie Walker has collected over 1000 cacti since the 80s, when he started helping police crack murder and unexplained death cases. The cacti collection has taken over his home, a terrarium and a greenhouse at the University of Saskatchewan.

Ernie Walker has collected over 1000 cacti since the 80s, when he started helping police crack cold cases

Ernie Walker has a collection of over 1000 cacti. (CBC News)
Walker has collected many different species of cacti since the 80s. (CBC News)

Ernie Walker's work as a forensic anthropologist has helped police crack some notable cases over the past two decades. During that time, he's developed an overgrown love for some prickly succulents.

Walker says he was attracted to the exotic and diverse nature of the plants.

"There is a cactus that blooms only at night, and the Spanish name is La Reina de la Noche, Queen of the Night," Walker said. "There's all kinds. Little tiny flowers. Colours you wouldn't normally see. Some of them you just want to hug at your own peril."

I like the symmetry of them,- Ernie Walker

Walker began working with Saskatchewan RCMP in the 80's, after finishing his doctorate in Texas. Since then he has helped police identify missing aboriginal women who were murdered in the province.

His unique expertise has also seen him work on high-profile cases, including the Robert Pickton murders in British Columbia.

Ernie Walker explain's his love for cacti to the CBC's Garth Materia, host of Blue Sky. (CBC News)

All along, Walker has kept his love for Midwestern ecology alive. 

It all started with few cacti specimens he picked up while studying in Texas. Now, more than two decades later, he has over 1000 succulents.

"I like the symmetry of them. If you look at them they're very symmetrical, they're very geometric," Walker explained.

He says the plants are famous because they are relatively easy to take care of. But, he admits his gardening needs are much different from those of his Saskatoon neighbours.

"There have been times when the forecast said no rain, but it is three in the morning and I am seeing lightning flashes, so I am out [in the garden] moving around in the dead of night," Walker told CBC News. "I have to be really careful with how much moisture they get."

Walker's collection of succulents have all but taken over his home, something he says his wife tolerates.

 "I think she likes it, maybe doesn't quite get it," Walker said. "The ones we have at home, which are quite a few and they're fairly large ones. She and I built a terrarium."

Walker's cacti collection has gotten so big he has rented a greenhouse at the U of S, where he can be found every Sunday.

"I'm thinking I'd like to draw them, do illustrations of cacti," he said.

Walker admits the hobby serves as a form of escapism from the often morbid nature of his work and he maintains that the cacti will outlive his career as a forensic anthropologist.

"Upon my retirement I fully intend to spend even more time with cacti," Walker told CBC News. "I at one time thought, what about having a chapter of the American Cacti and Succulents Society? But you can't have a chapter of one," Walker laughed.