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Opuntia phaeacantha

Previously known as:

  • O. phaeacantha var. brunnea
  • O. phaeacantha var. laevis
  • O. phaeacantha var. major
  • Opuntia angustata
  • Opuntia superbospina
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha) is a member of the Cactus family. Its scientific names derive from Latin and Greek. There are two theories about the origin of Opuntia. One is that Opuntia is from the Latin root puncti for prickled. The other is that it relates to an ancient Greek town, Opus, and a plant that could be found growing there. Phaeacantha is from two greek words – phaeo meaning dark or dusky and akantha meaning thorn. This plant hybridizes easily with other Opuntia leading to lots of confusion. Don't be surprised if you are certain the one you are looking at is Tulip Prickly Pear and it bears a different name.

This native plant forms a mound usually less than three feet high and as wide as it has room, eventually. It is slow growing and multiplies when the modified stems, called pads, drop off and root. (This is the easiest way to propagate this plant. Just dry the pad for a few days then lay it down so the cut part is in contact with the soil.) These pads are flat ovoids that are covered with both spines and bristles. The bristles are what you have to look out for. They are tiny and can puncture the skin leading to a significant skin irritation. Always wear leather gloves when you are dealing with this or any other cactus.

The flowers are very showy. They are bright yellow sometimes with reddish centers and about three inches wide. Yellowjackets, Sunflower bees and Green Skipper butterflies are attracted to them. At the end of the summer there will be oblong reddish to purple fleshy fruits that can be eaten. In fact the pads can also be eaten and both pads and fruit have been used by the Native Peoples for food and medicinal purposes for many years.

 

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:
  • 'Tahiti Sunrise'
'Tahiti Sunrise'
Tags:
#evergreen#houseplant#prickly#dry soils tolerant#container plant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Tahiti Sunrise'
'Tahiti Sunrise'
Tags:
#evergreen#houseplant#prickly#dry soils tolerant#container plant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Opuntia
    Species:
    phaeacantha
    Family:
    Cactaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Peoples use just about every part of this plant in one way or another. The fruit is eaten fresh, dried, cooked, as jellies, jams and candies, as juice or wine. The spines are used to create tattoo designs, as needles, to make holes for earrings, to get out splinters. The pads are roasted, boiled, fried, pulped and made into cakes, and dried. Strips of pads are peeled, parboiled, then boiled to make chewing gum. Sometimes the strips are boiled in sugar water, dried and eaten as candy. Or they can be boiled in the sugar water until they have dissolved and formed a syrup which is eaten as jelly. Among some peoples, the pads are heated and applied to the breasts to encourage the flow of milk.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southwest United States and Mexico Northeast
    Distribution:
    Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Mexico, Czech Replublic, Nambia, Spain, Australia
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers visited by Yellowjackets, Green Skipper butterflies and Sunflower bees.
    Edibility:
    Ripe fruit edible raw or in jelly. Pads can be eaten raw or cooked and have a mucilaginous texture. Remove spines and glochids from pads and fruit before eating.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 3 ft. 0 in. - 5 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Perennial
    Shrub
    Succulent
    Habit/Form:
    Creeping
    Dense
    Mounding
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Coarse
    Appendage:
    Prickles
    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:
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Winter
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit of this plant is the source of its common name – Prickly Pear. It is longer than wide and somewhat barrel shaped. The color is wine red to purple with a greenish juicy flesh. It can be eaten fresh , once it has been carefully peeled, or dried and used as an addition to other foods later or just as a dried fruit. It is also used to make jams, jellies, candies, juice and wine. The seeds can be ground into flour.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Solitary
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Cup
    Funnel
    Saucer
    Flower Petals:
    7 - 20 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers of this plant are very showy. They are about three inches across, bright yellow and carried at the margin of the pads. Sometimes they have a reddish center. The flowers appear from late spring through the summer.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Prickly
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Other/more complex
    Leaf Shape:
    Obovate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    What appear to be leaves are actually modified stem segments. These pads are flattened and obovate to circular. They function as a moisture reservoir that can be accessed during drought. When full, they are thick and greenish grey. However, during a period of drought they slowly shrink, become wrinkled and turn a dull grey/brown color. The next rain will quickly repair the damage. Because they could be a source of moisture for any wandering animal the plant has devised a means to protect this valuable resource – spines and bristles. The spines can be over three inches long, straight or curved. They are carried in groups of two to eight all across the pad. The bristles are the really nasty ones. They are only 0.2 of an inch long – virtually invisible. They are barbed and can easily puncture the skin and cause an irritation. Always wear leather gloves when working with or near any cactus.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    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:
    Coastal
    Container
    Houseplants
    Naturalized Area
    Rock Wall
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Rock Garden
    Design Feature:
    Barrier
    Foundation Planting
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Heat
    Poor Soil
    Problems:
    Spines/Thorns
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Can cause significant skin irritation.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    bristles
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Stems