Eastern Prickly Pear

Eastern Prickly Pear

Opuntia humifusa

Kingdom: Plant

Phylum: Angiosperm

Class: Dicot

Order: Caryophyllales

Family: Cactaceae

Genus: Opuntia

Species: humifusa

Where in the OLL?

⦁ (Not yet planted) Prickly Pear is a rare native plant (found more commonly towards the coast), so having it in the GCC gardens provides a learning opportunity for those who might not be aware that it grows locally. Housing one of these plants in our garden also serves as an act of conservation because of how uncommon they are in the New England area.

Plant growth form

⦁ This plant is considered a shrub.

⦁ Above-ground woody.

⦁ 1.5 feet tall x 3 by feet wide

⦁ The green pads you see are actually what is considered the “stem” of the cactus. The job of this specialized stem is to store water and do all the photosynthesis for the plant, which is why cacti have no traditional leaves.
The real “leaves” of this plant are actually the spines that cover its surface. The spines of a cactus play many very important roles for the plant, which include:

Despite their small size (which may appear deceptively less intimidating than it’s larger-spined relatives), each point is actually a cluster of small hair-like spines which detach when disturbed, causing irritation when lodged in the skin. This provides the plant with protection from predators.

Water collection:
The increased surface area they provide allows water to collect on the spines and run down the stem of the cactus depositing it at the roots.

Temperature regulation:
The spines of a cactus act the same way the hairs on your arms do, creating a thin layer of trapped air which helps the plant keep a consistent temperature during the severe spikes throughout the day, as well as the rapid decline during the night.

Although they appear small in size, the accumulation of all the plant’s spines ends up providing it some protection from the harsh sun it has to face in some climates (however, this is not an issue this plant struggles with here).

Flowers, fruits & pollinators

⦁ Single flower, 3” wide bloom.

⦁ Yellow with a red/orange tint in the center.

⦁ June-July.

⦁ Perfect flower type.

⦁ General description:

The flowers of a Prickly Pear have 7 sepals, 1 pistil, 7 or more petals, and 200+ stamens. They are 3” wide, are yellow with a reddish-orange center and have petals that are heart-shaped with a single small point sticking out of the end. The base of the flower that connects it to the cactus is around 1-2 inches long, making the flower protrude very high above the plant.

Ideal location, conditions & cultural needs

⦁ These plants will flourish in partial or direct sun and prefer to have 8-12 hours of sun exposure per day.

⦁ These plants prefer dry soil with a heavy gravel/sand presence that provides them with proper drainage

⦁ pH 6- 7.5

⦁ These plants have no special needs when it comes to nutrients and are in fact very tolerant in nutrient-deficient desert soils that would not be viable for the majority of plants.

Planning & maintenance

⦁ This plant needs at least 3 x 3 square feet to grow to full size.

⦁ Although this plant does spread out wide and low to the ground, it does not happen at a fast pace and requires no regular trimming.

Cultivars & propagation

⦁ The best way to propagate this plant is from cuttings (such as a singular pad taken from the established plant, which is then planted with the section where it was joined facing down), as the process of growing from seeds is very slow.

⦁ This plant is propagated by Nasami Farms and is redistributed to nearby nurseries.

Pests & pathogens

⦁ This plant faces no common pests; however, root rot is a common issue that plagues these plants when they do not have well-draining soil.

Landscape & ecosystem

⦁ It provides edible fruit for the wildlife and its flowers provide sugars for the insects in exchange for pollination.

Human uses

⦁ Both the fruits of this plant as well as its pads are edible, although they must be de-spined before consumption! Fruits can be sliced up and eaten as is, candied, or added/turned into juices or beers. Pads can be boiled or grilled and used in many dishes, just as you would any other vegetable.

Plant catalogued by Tatiana Harshbarger
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