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Plant Families / Opuntia


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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.

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Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddybear Cholla)

A spectacular cactus of the Southwestern United States, Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddybear Cholla) is a slow growing, small, erect tree-like cactus with a distinct trunk topped with stubby branches densely covered with silvery-white spines, 1 in. long (2.5 cm). From a distance, the stems appear soft and fuzzy, resembling the arms of a teddy bear. But to not get too close. The soft appearance is due to the incredible mass of formidable spines that completely cover the stems and are notorious for attaching themselves to the skin or clothes of passerby.

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Cylindropuntia echinocarpa (Silver Cholla)

A spectacular cactus of the Southwestern United States, Cylindropuntia echinocarpa (Silver Cholla) can be a low, densely branched bush to a large, tree-like cactus with a short, thick trunk. It is usually found in cultivation in two color variations. The stems are either densely covered with white (Silver Cholla) or yellow to tan (Golden Cholla) spines, up to 1 in. long (2.5 cm). The formidable spines are arranged neatly on the stems, making both forms highly decorative.

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Opuntia 'Baby Rita' (Prickly Pear)

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.

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Opuntia basilaris (Beavertail Cactus)

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.

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Opuntia elatior (Red-Flower Prickly Pear)

Opuntia elatior (Red-Flower Prickly Pear) is a big succulent shrub, eventually becoming tree-like, with a well-defined primary trunk and a profusion of flat, oblong, olive green pads, up to 16 in. long (40 cm). Bright white, needle-like spines (aging to gray-brown) are clustered in groups of 2-8. Sitting on the outer edges of the pads, a profusion of large, long-lasting, orange or reddish flowers appear in spring or summer.

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Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann Prickly Pear)

Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann Prickly Pear) is a bushy succulent shrub with light green or bluish green, egg-shaped, fleshy pads, up to 12 in. across (30 cm). It forms sizeable clusters and grows either upright or spreading.

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Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly Pear)

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).

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Opuntia humifusa (Eastern Prickly Pear)

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.

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Opuntia macrocentra (Black-Spine Prickly Pear)

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.

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Opuntia microdasys (Bunny Ears)

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.

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Opuntia robusta (Silver Dollar Prickly Pear)

Opuntia robusta (Silver Dollar Prickly Pear) is a large, often erect, succulent shrub or small tree with huge, silvery-blue, round, fleshy pads, up to 20 in. wide (50 cm). Thick and heavy, a single pad can weigh up to 4 pounds (2 kg)!

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Opuntia santarita (Santa Rita Prickly Pear)

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.

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