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Prickly Pear Cactus – Opuntia humifusa

Categories:Deer Resistant Drought Tolerant Native Plants Perennials

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The eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is native to various parts of the United States. The flowers are beautiful in spring. The flowers and perhaps the edible fruit are the main reason I would consider planting eastern prickly pear in the garden.

prickly pear flower
Prickly pear cactus growing in gravel along track tracks.

The eastern prickly pear is a native plant, and I would think twice before removing Opuntia humifusa any landscape where it occurs naturally.

The eastern prickly pear is the sole native cactus of many states (Nature Conservancy). Opuntia humifusa is extremely easy to grow and winter hardy zones 4-10. Being a cactus, eastern prickly pear prefers full sun, although I have seen it grow and flower in partial shade. Being a cactus, eastern prickly pear is an excellent choice for xeric gardens.

The flowers are gorgeous in spring, gold to clear yellow and 3″ or so across.

prickly pear flower
Opuntia humifusa.

Eastern prickly pear cactus laughs off rain and humidity that would send other cacti to the grave.

The spines can be vicious, and I learned a long time ago that it’s the thorns you can’t see that get you. Typically a cactus has a bunch of big nasty looking thorns and then smaller, finer thorns that are barely visible. We touch or brush up against the big thorns but those smaller ones are the terrible ones, seeming to jump into our skin.

The fruit is fleshy and red and edible. There are plenty of recipes for prickly pear cactus available online (prickly pear margarita anyone?).

eastern prickly pear cactus
Eastern prickly pear cactus.

Scientific name: Opuntia humifusa
Common name(s): eastern prickly pear cactus, devil’s tongue, indian fig
Plant type: cactus
Height: 12″-48″
Native status: Opuntia humifusa is native to many parts of the United States. It’s primary range is the eastern half of the U.S. but it occurs naturally as far west as Montana.
Winter hardiness:  4-10
Of note: It’s a cactus, and not particularly majestic like many of the cacti of the desert southwest. However, the yellow flowers are beautiful in late spring. The fruit, fleshy and red, is edible. I couldn’t imagine a situation where I would plant Opuntia in a garden design, but given its native status I would also be hesitant to remove prickly pear cactus from anywhere it naturally occurred.

prickly pear cactus in landscape
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