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Opuntia humifusa

Common Name(s):
Eastern prickly pear cactus
Native Plants, Perennials

Eastern prickly pear is in the Cactaceae (Cactus) family.  The prickly pears are considered an old group within the cactus family with about 150 species in Opuntia. It has the largest range of any cactus in the United States and can be found from New Mexico and Montana east to Florida and Massachusetts. It is also found in Ontario. Eastern prickly pear can form large colonies or occur as a few individuals in an area. In older botanical manuals, it is often listed as Opuntia compressa.

This species is a typical cactus with a photosynthetic stem that acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern and middle states. The stems or pads as they are often called can be 2 to 7" long and 1.5 to 5" wide. Pads are jointed in a linear or branched fashion.

Flowers are produced at the ends of pads in early summer. They are usually yellow, but east of the Appalachian Mountains and on dunes, the center is often red to orange. The flesh of the reddish fruits is edible, but not usually very sweet.

This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often on calcareous rock or thin soils. It can be found in or on fencerows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes, and prairie. The roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary.  This plant is highly salt tolerant.

1-2 ft.
Flower Color:
yellow, orange to red eye
Full sun
pulpy, red, edible
dry, sandy, well-drained
salt tolerant

NCCES plant id: 3332

Opuntia humifusa Opuntia humifusa
Alan Leoni, CC BY-NC-2.0
Opuntia humifusa flower
Dr Mary Archive Project, CC BY - 2.0