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Opuntia macrorhiza is often confused with:
Opuntia humifusa Growing on granite outcrop (Madison, VA)-Early Summer
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Thymus vulgaris Thymus vulgaris
Sedum Flowers
Hedera colchica Growing as a ground cover (Kershaw County, SC)-Early Spring

Opuntia macrorhiza

Previously known as:

  • Cactus tuberculatas
  • O fusiformis
  • O grandiflora
  • O leptocarpa
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Plains prickly pear is a member of the cactus family (Cactaceae) that is native to the contiguous US. It has been introduced into the Northeastern and Southern portions of Argentina and the Northern Caucasus. The first part of its scientific name, Opuntia, relates to an ancient Greek town, Opus, where a similar plant could be found growing. Macrorhiza, the second part, is Latin for 'with large roots' and refers to the large, tuberous rhizomes that form the roots of this plant.

This plant is commonly found growing in sandy or rocky, dry or well drained soil. Its stems have been modified into oval or round fleshy pads that store moisture when it is available and provide a reservoir when the area has become very dry. As a defense against animals that would like to get at this moisture, these pads are covered with spines and bristles. Some of the bristles are barbed and can puncture human skin. For some people this can trigger a significant allergic skin reaction.

The form of this plant with the pads growing in any direction can be attractive enough. However, there are flowers during late spring and early summer that are bright yellow with a red/orange center. They are very showy and attract pollinators. In the late summer and autumn the 'pear' becomes ripe and can be eaten as a fruit or made into candies and jams.

This plant can be used as a ground cover, to help anchor sandy or rocky slopes, as a spot plant in a dry garden, in a naturalized area or in a pollinator garden. Provide room for the off-shoots. The pads have a tendency to break off and root which will eventually form a colony.

 

VIDEO Created by Elisabeth Meyer for "Houseplants, Succulents, and Cacti", a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.   

More information on Opuntia.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Juniper Level Botanic Gardens: Parking Lot Berms
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#houseplant#low growing#low maintenance#edible fruits#pollinator plant#cactus#dry soils tolerant#container plants
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#houseplant#low growing#low maintenance#edible fruits#pollinator plant#cactus#dry soils tolerant#container plants
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Opuntia
    Species:
    macrorhiza
    Family:
    Cactaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The fruit of prickly pear has been and continues to be eaten fresh and made into candies and jams. The Native Americans also cooked it, and dried it for use throughout the winter. The pads were roasted for a vegetable and the sap was used for medical applications. The spines were used to pierce the ear and also for lancing small skin abcesses. The roasted pads were also used by midwives to lubricate their hands when removing the placenta.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    US and northern Mexico
    Distribution:
    This plant is native to the Western US and Canada but is now found as a garden plant almost anywhere there is dry ground. It has been introduced to the NE and S Argentina and the Northern Caucasus.
    Wildlife Value:
    This plant is visited by the Simius Roadside Skipper, the Uncas Skipper and the Green Skipper butterflies.
    Edibility:
    The fruit is edible raw, cooked or dried. The pads can be roasted to serve as a vegtable. Remove spines and glochids from pads and fruit before eating.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Ground Cover
    Perennial
    Succulent
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Erect
    Prostrate
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Spines
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil Texture:
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Very Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Length:
    > 3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit of this plant is an elongated reddish oval that can be up to four inches long and as wide as an inch. It is fleshy and good to eat. The Rampah Navajo dried it and used it during the winter when fruits were hard to find.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Funnel
    Flower Petals:
    7 - 20 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers on this plant are very showy. They are 2-3” in diameter, bright yellow with a red/orange eye. There are 8-12 yellow rays that surround a bushy clump of yellow stamens. They are attractive to pollinators.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Fleshy
    Prickly
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Other/more complex
    Leaf Shape:
    Obovate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves of this plant aren't leaves at all. The pads are modified stems. These dark, dull green stem segments are not easily detached. Their shape is oval to circular and they are usually thick and fleshy. If there has been a drought then the pads become wrinkled as the plant takes advantage of their stored moisture. They are covered with 1-4, inch long spines which grow from an areole. The flattened needle shaped spines are white to a reddish brown color and can stand straight up or spread out from the areole. The spines are turned downward. The pads of this plant are also covered with dense tufts of pale yellow, tan to red-brown, ¼ inch long barbed bristles. These can penetrate the skin and sometimes cause an allergic reaction. These pads can be used to propagate this plant. First, get a pair of leather gardening gloves. In late spring cut a healthy pad from the plant and let it dry for two or three days. Then choose the place where you want the new plant to grow. Holding the pad upright, gently push it into the soil. You may need to wedge it with a few pebbles to keep it upright. You could also just lay it down. In either case, ensure that the cut part is in contact with the soil. Do not water it. Remember it's a cactus and adapted to very dry conditions.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Flattened stems (cladodes, often called pads) that resemble thick leaves. Glochids (minute bristle-like, barbed hairs in clusters) on the stems.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Houseplants
    Naturalized Area
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Barrier
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Drought
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    The pads of this plant are covered with tufts of bristles that can pierce human skin and also cause significant allergic skin reactions.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    bristles
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    Yes
    Poison Part:
    Stems