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Opuntia fragilis (Brittle Prickly Pear)

Brittle Prickly Pear, Fragile Prickly Pear, Pygmy Prickly Pear, Brittle Cactus, Cactus fragilis, Opuntia brachyarthra, Opuntia fragilis ssp. brachyarthra, Opuntia fragilis var. brachyarthra, Opuntia fragilis var. denudata, Opuntia fragilis var. fragilis

opuntia fragilis, Brittle Prickly Pear, Fragile Prickly Pear, Pygmy Prickly Pear, Brittle Cactus
opuntia fragilis, Brittle Prickly Pear, Fragile Prickly Pear, Pygmy Prickly Pear, Brittle Cactus
opuntia fragilis, Brittle Prickly Pear, Fragile Prickly Pear, Pygmy Prickly Pear, Brittle Cactus

Opuntia fragilis, commonly known as the brittle prickly pear, stands out with its small, rounded pads that resemble a miniature version of the more extensive prickly pear cacti. The pads, known as cladodes, are easily detachable, lending to its name “brittle.”

Opuntia fragilis: An In-depth Look

Native: This particular species is native to North America, spanning a range from central Canada to the western United States.

Plant Type and Habit: Opuntia fragilis is a perennial, succulent plant. The growth habit is low and spreading, often forming mat-like structures over the ground.

Size: Typically, it grows to a height of about 2-8 inches (5-20 cm), with a spread of up to 2 feet (60 cm) or more in some cases.

Flowers: The flowers are generally yellow but can sometimes have a reddish tint. They’re relatively small compared to other Opuntia species but are no less striking. Flowering occurs in late spring to early summer.

Fruits: It produces small, elongated, green fruits, 2 to 3 months after flowering, that turn reddish with maturity. Inside are numerous seeds. The fruit is technically edible, but it’s not as commonly consumed as the fruit of other Opuntia species, such as Opuntia ficus-indica. The fruit is smaller and less fleshy compared to other prickly pears.

Foliage: The green pads, or cladodes, are the primary form of foliage. They can sometimes take on a purplish hue in cold conditions.

Hardiness: One of the more cold-hardy cacti, Opuntia fragilis can tolerate temperatures down to -30°F (-34°C). This resilience makes it unique among cacti.

Uses: This species is primarily ornamental, ideal for rock gardens, xeriscaping, or as ground cover. Its unique appearance makes it a favorite for container gardening and indoors as well.

Wildlife: The flowers attract pollinators, especially bees. Some birds may also feed on the seeds from the fruit.

Deer and Rabbits: Like many cacti, Opuntia fragilis is generally resistant to deer and rabbits due to its spines and the tough nature of its pads.

Drought: Being a cactus, Opuntia fragilis is highly drought-tolerant. It can survive extended periods without water, making it suitable for arid and semi-arid environments.

Toxicity: Opuntia fragilis is not known to be toxic to humans or pets. However, care should be taken when handling due to the spines and glochids (tiny, hair-like prickles).

Invasiveness: Opuntia fragilis is not considered invasive in its native range. However, like any plant, ensuring it doesn’t disrupt local ecosystems when introduced to non-native areas is essential.

Benefits: Apart from its ornamental value, Opuntia fragilis is known to be a vital source of food and habitat for specific wildlife in its native regions. Additionally, its pads have been historically used for various medicinal purposes by indigenous communities.

Key Facts:
The “brittle” in its name isn’t just for show. The pads detach very easily, allowing the plant to propagate. If a pad breaks off and lands on suitable ground, it can take root and grow a new plant. This unique method of propagation ensures its survival in tough conditions.

How to Grow and Care for Brittle Prickly Pear

Light: Prefers full sun for optimal growth and flower production.

Soil: Requires well-draining soil, preferably sandy or gritty. Consider adding perlite or sand to enhance drainage.

Water: Drought-tolerant once established. Water sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings.

Fertilizer: Use a cactus-specific fertilizer in the growing season, spring to early summer, but avoid over-fertilizing.

Pruning: Minimal pruning is required. Remove damaged or diseased pads using tongs or gloves to protect against spines.

Propagation: Easily propagated by detaching pads and planting them in appropriate soil. Ensure the pad has dried or “calloused” for a day or two before planting.

Pests and Diseases: Watch out for scale insects and root rot. Root rot often results from overwatering or poor drainage. Proper planting and watering techniques can prevent most issues.

Requirements

Hardiness 4 - 10
Plant Type Cactus & Succulents
Plant Family Cactaceae
Genus Opuntia
Common names Prickly Pear, Cactus
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 2" - 8"
(5cm - 20cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 18" - 24"
(50cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low
Soil Type Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, California, Rocky Mountains, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Utah
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit, Dry Soil, Rocky Soil
Attracts Birds, Bees
Garden Uses Beds And Borders, Ground Covers, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles Mediterranean Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden
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Alternative Plants to Consider

Opuntia rufida (Blind Prickly Pear)
Opuntia santa-rita Tubac™ (Santa Rita Prickly Pear)
Austrocylindropuntia subulata (Eve’s Needle Cactus)
Cylindropuntia imbricata (Tree Cholla)
Cylindropuntia echinocarpa (Silver Cholla)
Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddybear Cholla)

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Aloe
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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Requirements

Hardiness 4 - 10
Plant Type Cactus & Succulents
Plant Family Cactaceae
Genus Opuntia
Common names Prickly Pear, Cactus
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 2" - 8"
(5cm - 20cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 18" - 24"
(50cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low
Soil Type Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, California, Rocky Mountains, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Utah
Tolerance Drought, Deer, Rabbit, Dry Soil, Rocky Soil
Attracts Birds, Bees
Garden Uses Beds And Borders, Ground Covers, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles Mediterranean Garden, Gravel and Rock Garden
How Many Plants
Do I Need?
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Opuntia (Prickly Pear)
Not sure which Opuntia (Prickly Pear) to pick?
Compare Now

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