Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 215 Opuntia humifusa

Common Names: hardy prickly pear , prickly pear cactus, prickly-pear Family: Cactaceae (cactus Family)
Image Gallery

prickly pear cactus flowers
The large showy yellow blossoms host hordes of bees who come for a nectar meal and leave with a coating of pollen


Hardy prickly pear is a prostrate or spreading cactus with oblong, flattened pads 2-6 in (5.1-15.2 cm) long, that bristle with sharp spines. (Some individuals don't have spines.) The showy flowers appear in late spring and early summer. They are bright yellow and 3-4 in (7.6-10.2 cm) across. The edible egg shaped fruits are called tunas and are reddish green, and 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long. The pulp is ruby red and tastes a little like watermelon.

prickly pear cactus fruits
Exposure to winter's freezing temperatures tints the pads purple and the color of the fruit is intensified.


There are over 200 species of prickly pear cactuses. Most are found in southwestern North America, Mexico, Central America and South America. Opuntia humifusa, the hardy prickly pear is native to the United States east of the Rockies, where it grows in dry, sandy soils in open pine woods, prairies and scrub.


Prickly pear is easy to grow, rooting readily from pads stuck in the ground, or even just lying on the surface. Light: Full sun Moisture: Drought tolerant. Doesn't like soggy conditions. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Propagation: By seeds or by rooting the pads.
prickly pear
prickly pear
Under optimal garden conditions prickly pear will produce larger pads and grow to a foot or two in height (top photo). Out in the field where the mower goes the prickly pear pads lay flat and stay low.


Useful in mixed borders and natural areas. Hardy prickly pear is low-growing and its brilliant yellow flowers and meandering pads are most effective at the front of mixed plantings. It thrives in rock gardens and containers.


See what happens when you use your finger or a small stick to gently touch the stamens in an open prickly pear flower! If it had been an insect instead of your finger, the writhing stamens would have spread pollen all over it. Then, if the insect moved to a flower on a different prickly pear it would have carried the pollen and cross-pollinated the plants.

The sweet juicy fruits of the prickly pear, called tunas, are very popular everywhere except the United States. In fact, annual worldwide commercial production of prickly pear tunas is more than twice that of strawberries, avocados, or apricots! The pads, called nopales, are a popular vegetable in Mexico and Central America. They are usually cooked but can be eaten raw. They taste a little like green beans.


Prickly pear spines are easy enough to avoid, but watch out for the glochids, those tiny hairlike bristles that occur in little tufts. They are barbed and treacherous!

Steve Christman 03/27/98; updated 12/6/99, 5/25/04, 2/4/05

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Opuntia species profiled on Floridata:

Opuntia humifusa

( hardy prickly pear , prickly pear cactus, prickly-pear )

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