Plant Family / Opuntia
Opuntia is a large genus of the family Cactaceae, with some 200 species. Native to the Americas and the West Indies, this genus is divided into subgroups based on the form of the stem segments. Opuntia (Prickly Pears) are branched, jointed cacti with flat, broad joints (pads), usually densely spined, though a few species have no spines. Cylindropuntia (Cholla) are characterized by cylindrical joints. Some become large and treelike while others stay at ground level, often forming spreading carpets. Opuntias bear some of the most beautiful flowers in the cactus world and their fruit is often edible.
Frost hardy, Opuntia 'Baby Rita' (Prickly Pear) is a dwarf succulent shrub with colorful, round, ovate, fleshy pads. Covered with spines, the pads turn rich purple in winter before changing back to soft blue gray with warmer temperatures. This purple pad coloration also intensifies in direct sunlight and drought.
A low-spreading cactus species, Opuntia basilaris (Beavertail Cactus) is a bushy succulent shrub with gray-blue, wide and flat, fleshy pads resembling beaver tails. During arid conditions, the pads take on an attractive purple tinge. Lacking the long spines of other prickly pears, the pads are covered with tiny, gray-blue bristles with barbed tips.
Fast growing, Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly Pear) is a big succulent shrub, eventually becoming tree-like, with a thick, woody central trunk and a profusion of flat, oblong, bluish-green pads, up to 2 ft. across 60 cm). Most specimens are spineless and lack glochids (barbed bristles on the areoles).
idely found in the eastern United States, Opuntia humifusa (Eastern Prickly Pear) is a clump-forming succulent shrub with round-to-oval, fleshy, purple-tinged, green pads, up to 10 in. across (25 cm). In summer, this cactus puts out some of the most striking flowers.
Striking in any setting, Opuntia macrocentra (Black-Spine Prickly Pear) is a bushy succulent shrub with colorful, round, ovate, fleshy pads. Covered with long dark spines, generally at the top of the pads, the pads often turn purple or magenta in cold weather or in drought, before changing back to blue-green with warmer temperatures.
A most attractive cactus, Opuntia microdasys (Bunny Ears) is a bushy, perennial cactus with oval to round, flattened, small pads, up to 6 in. across (15 cm). Red when new, the pads appear in pairs, like the ears of a rabbit, and mature to a soft, velvety green as they grow.
A very attractive species, Opuntia santarita (Santa Rita Prickly Pear) is an upright, bushy succulent shrub with colorful, round, ovate, fleshy pads. Covered with spines, the pads turn rich purple in winter before changing back to soft blue gray with warmer temperatures.