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Meet the Natives: Prickly Pear Cactus

March 24, 2022

The prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) can offer a lot to your landscape if you can live with its large spines. From spring into summer, they put on a display of showy, yellow flowers, which is a nectar source for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Following the flowers, the purple to reddish fruits can be enjoyed by both humans and wildlife. Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) eat both the fruits and the “pads” of the cactus. After very carefully removing the smaller, more bristle-like spines, the fruits can be eaten raw or cooked to make jams or syrups. The pads can also be eaten as well after removing both the larger and smaller spines; they are commonly grilled or sautéed.

Placement in the landscape is important. They thrive in fairly open, sunny areas and should be placed where they won’t experience too much foot traffic. Prickly pear has a sprawling habit, forming a low clump. This cactus naturally occurs in scrub and coastal strand habitats.


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