19 of the Finest Prickly Pear (Opuntia) Varieties

Image a prickly pear cactus, and what do you see? I guess the plant you envision has inexperienced flat pads, some spikes rising out of small lumps, and might be just a few toes tall and extensive.

Certain, that describes one sort, however the world of cacti within the Opuntia genus is a lot extra broad and diversified!

Aside from the usual edible species, there are some species that develop low like floor covers, and others that tower 15 toes tall or extra.

Some have inexperienced pads however you’ll additionally discover species with pads in cream, pink, purple, grey, and blue. There are even variegated choices! And we haven’t even touched on the flowers but.

A close up horizontal image of a prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus in full bloom pictured in bright sunshine on a blue sky background.

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There are dozens of Opuntia species native to the US and round 200 all through the world.

You probably have a dry patch in your backyard with loads of solar, there’s an Opuntia species that may fit your wants.

In our information to rising prickly pear cactus, we talk about tips on how to domesticate these desert species in your panorama. On this article, we’ll check out 19 of the perfect Opuntia varieties on your backyard.

Right here’s the lineup:

Earlier than we chat about the perfect of the perfect, we must always make clear just a few phrases. The large, roundish components of the plant are referred to as “pads,” however they’re technically known as cladodes.

Cladodes are flattened stems quite than true leaves – be at liberty to make use of that information at your subsequent trivia social gathering!

Prickly pears can have each spines and glochids. Spines are the lengthy, spiky bits that many people unintentionally uncover once we step on or brush up towards them.

Glochids are small bristle-like growths, usually with fish hook-like barbs.

They type of resemble hairs, however they certain don’t really feel prefer it. As soon as they get into your pores and skin, it’s onerous to get them out. They trigger ache, burning, and intense irritation.

Not all vegetation within the Opuntia genus have spines, however virtually all have glochids.

Prickly pear pads and fruits are edible, although they fluctuate of their palatability. In the event you do resolve to attempt to eat them, at all times make sure you pluck any spines and burn off the glochids first.

With these phrases clarified, let’s dive into 19 of the perfect prickly pears on your panorama.

1. Barbary

If you wish to develop an edible prickly pear cactus, O. ficus-indica is an efficient selection.

It’s essentially the most broadly cultivated species in Mexico and often the one you discover in markets. When individuals say “prickly pear” or seek advice from “nopal,” it’s often this species they’re speaking about.

A close up horizontal image of a prickly pear cactus with bright red fruits pictured on a blue sky background.

Typically known as the Indian fig, barbary fig, or fig opuntia, it’s not solely fashionable in Mexico however around the globe as a meals crop, each for the edible pads and the fruits.

It has been in cultivation for therefore lengthy that specialists aren’t certain exactly the place it originated within the wild, but it surely’s thought to return from central Mexico.

It’s cultivated around the globe in heat, arid areas broadly equal to Zones 9 to 12 and has naturalized in lots of areas. Actually, it has even change into weedy or invasive in locations like Australia and components of Africa.

When mature, this prickly pear cactus can tower over 15 toes tall and unfold simply as extensive, and the cladodes are massive and thick starting from three to 12 inches in size.

The small white, yellow, or crimson blossoms are much less showy than these of some species, however the fruits – known as tunas – that observe are among the greatest. They’re candy and juicy.

Spines might or might not be current and whereas the glochids are minimal, it’s best to undoubtedly pores and skin the pad or burn them off earlier than use.

2. Beavertail

The beavertail prickly pear (O. basilaris) takes its identify from the gray-blue pads, which resemble the tails of beavers.

Discovered rising wild within the southwest US, this species reaches simply over a foot tall and grows in clumps sporting lots of of four-inch pads, spreading politely within the backyard.

A close up horizontal image of a beavertail cactus with one bright pink flower growing in the desert pictured on a blue sky background.

The pads might need spines, although often they don’t, however they do have glochids. The flowers steal the present that includes three-inch ruffled magenta petals with vivid yellow and crimson filaments on the middle.

The crimson fruits are fairly however they’re onerous, rendering them largely inedible. Birds love them, although.

In chilly or arid environments, the pads of this opuntia can flip purple.

3. Blind

You’ll discover the blind cactus (O. rufida) rising wild in Texas and components of Mexico, however this species could be very fashionable within the backyard as a result of it’s spineless.

A close up horizontal image of a large Opuntia rufida growing wild.

Nevertheless, simply because the pads will not be spiny doesn’t imply they lack glochids.

The frequent identify “blind prickly pear” refers to the truth that the glochids detach simply and might even be carried round within the wind.

Legend has it that they’ve blown into the eyes of people and animals, blinding them.

For that purpose, stick this statuesque prickly pear out of the way in which the place it gained’t menace passersby.

O. rufida grows as much as 5 toes tall and extensive with massive, thick pads that may measure as much as 9 inches in diameter. The 2-inch flowers are yellow or orange, adopted by vivid crimson fruits.

Develop it outdoor in Zones 8 to 10 or as a houseplant in different areas.

4. Brittle

Discovered rising wild throughout the west and midwest, brittle or little prickly pear (O. fragilis) is itty-bitty.

The pads develop to about an inch throughout at most, in clumps of as much as a foot extensive and 4 inches tall. They’re one of many cold-hardiest Optunia species on the market, rising in Zones 4 to 10.

A close up horizontal image of a prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis) in full bloom.

The frequent identify “brittle” refers back to the tendency of the pads to interrupt away from the plant extraordinarily simply, so don’t develop this someplace will probably be bumped.

This species not often flowers and rarely produces fruits, so take pleasure in it for the medium inexperienced pads that type on flat chains.

After they do flower, the blossoms could also be shades of pale yellow to deep pink.

5. Bunny Ears

Whether or not you name it angel’s wings, bunny ears, or polka-dot cactus, O. microdasys is lovely.

Rising as much as about two toes tall and extensive at maturity with six-inch cladodes, it maintains a manageable dimension. When the plant is younger, it’s not onerous to see the distinct rabbit-head-like form of this Mexican native.

A close up horizontal image of a potted bunny ears cactus growing indoors.

This species lacks spines, however as an alternative, it has dense patches of yellow glochids with distinct white areoles that seem like cheerful, raised polka dots.

Don’t strive petting it, although. The glochids detach readily and they’re a ache within the… every part.

This isn’t an choice that you simply develop for its flowers, the pads that make this cutie stand out, and the yellow flowers solely seem not often.

Search for white bunny ears (O. microdasys albata), which has a lot of fuzzy white glochids, contributing even additional to the bunny-like look.

A close up of a bunny ears cactus growing in a small pot isolated on a white background.

Bunny Ears

Choose up your individual little cutie in a four-inch pot at Walmart. It’s appropriate for rising outdoor in Zones 7 to 11, however many people take pleasure in angel’s wings indoors in pots, the place it stays smaller.

6. Desert

Throughout the southwest, components of the southeast, and into Mexico grows the long-lasting desert prickly pear (O. engelmannii).

This species grows in clumps reaching about 11 toes tall, with spherical or oval pads which can be about eight inches on the widest level.

The green-gray pads have spines and yellow or brown glochids, and produce vivid yellow and crimson flowers within the spring. The juicy crimson fruits are extraordinarily tasty.

This opuntia cactus prefers hotter climate in Zones 8 to 10.

7. Drooping

I choose the alternate identify of Barbary fig or cochineal prickly pear, however many individuals know this species because the drooping prickly pear (O. monacanthos or O. monacantha).

It’s clear how this South American native received its identify – the plant takes on a tree-like type with drooping branches of ten-inch-long cladodes.

A close up horizontal image of the flowers and buds of a drooping prickly pear (Opuntia monacantha) growing in the garden.

This species can develop as much as 20 toes tall and about 5 toes extensive, and when the plant is dotted with vivid yellow blossoms, it actually stands out.

The gorgeous crimson fruits aren’t too shabby, both. Simply keep away from the two-inch thorns, although not all vegetation have them.

This warm-weather lover can’t tolerate a freeze, so it could actually solely be grown in Zones 9 to 11.

There are a number of cultivars and varieties which can be much more distinctive than the species. ‘Joseph’s Coat,’ as an illustration, has pink, cream, and inexperienced variegated pads.

A close up of a 'Joseph's Coat' cactus growing in a small pot isolated on a white background.

‘Joseph’s Coat’

 You could find stay vegetation in two-inch pots obtainable at Walmart. Don’t fear, it grows fairly shortly and also you’ll be having fun with its full glory very quickly.

8. Dune

Does this opuntia actually develop in sand dunes? You betcha! Dune prickly pear (O. drummondii) inhabits the sandy dunes of the Atlantic coast south of North Carolina.

It has quick spines and is usually first found by beachgoers once they instantly discover their naked toes impaled on a rogue pad.

That’s as a result of the small pads, that are usually just some inches throughout, detach from the plant simply and take root readily, to allow them to be scattered and onerous to see throughout their native vary.

A mature plant can develop as much as three toes tall and extensive with clusters of pads.

The dune prickly pear is a little more noticeable when the brilliant yellow blossoms are current, and it makes a fantastic floor cowl for the arid backyard. Simply don’t step on it.

9. Japanese

O. humifusa (previously O. comressa) generally goes by satan’s tongue or japanese prickly pear and may be discovered within the southeastern US and Mexico in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

A close up horizontal image of the flowers and pads of an eastern prickly pear cactus.

It grows just a little over a foot tall and twice as extensive with massive oval inexperienced pads that may fluctuate between two inches to just about a foot lengthy.

The showy, three-inch flowers are vivid yellow, generally with a touch of crimson. The crimson fruits are juicy, flavorful, and scrumptious.

Be careful for the lengthy, vicious spines of this opuntia, it has plenty of them!

10. Golden

Golden prickly pear (O. aurea) is a species that ought to high your must-have record.

It’s native to southwestern Utah and northwest Arizona, the place it grows in scrublands and desert forests together with junipers and pinyon pines in Zones 4b to 10a.

A close up horizontal image of a large Opuntia aurea growing wild pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.

Within the backyard, it stands out with sensible pink, magenta, or yellow blossoms that may attain as much as three inches throughout on practically spineless, grayish-green pads.

The pads are pretty small, at about six inches in diameter, however there are many them in every clump and their dimension actually will increase the influence of the flowers as compared. The fruits that observe are grayish-red.

This species is low-growing, reaching as much as three toes extensive and only a foot tall.

Search for types that flip purple within the winter or for one of many many stunning hybrids bred utilizing this species as a mother or father, comparable to ‘Orange Chiffon’ with its beautiful ruffled orange blossoms that resemble roses.

11. Isla Magdelena

Isla Magdelena prickly pear (O. pycnantha) solely grows wild on the Isla Magdelena and Isla Santa Margarita in Baja California within the equal of Zones 9b to 11b.

A close up horizontal image of a potted Opuntia pycnantha pictured on a soft focus background.

It grows slowly to a mature stature of about three toes tall and an equal or barely wider unfold, with six-inch-wide cladodes lined in pinkish-orange areolas and plenty of densely clustered glochids.

The spines additionally seem in clusters and are quick, making them seem like little starbursts. The three inch flowers are neon yellow, adopted by reddish purple fruits.

This one is usually a little bit onerous to search out.

12. Marble

The round, yellow-green, six-inch pads of O. strigil are lined in a big quantity of spines, with as much as 10 rising in a starburst form from every areole.

Within the spring, the plant has creamy yellow blossoms which will or might not have orange accents.

This species can solely be discovered rising wild in Texas, but it surely’s fashionable in gardens in Zones 6b to 10b. It could actually develop about three and a half toes excessive with the same or barely wider unfold.

Interested by how this species received its frequent identify? It’s from the small, spherical, crimson fruits that strongly resemble marbles.

13. Previous Man’s Whiskers

Native to Texas and northern Mexico, O. aciculata goes by outdated man’s whiskers and cowboy’s crimson whiskers. The frequent names come from the orange to darkish crimson glochids that type in clusters. The inch-long spines may be current, however not at all times.

The plant grows as much as three toes tall and twice as extensive, with clusters of eight-inch oval cladodes. When the climate turns chilly, these blue-green pads flip pink or purple.

Within the spring, the pads sport three-inch flowers in yellow, apricot, orange, vermillion, or a mixture of colours. After the frilly blossoms fade, the scrumptious crimson fruits type.

Develop this distinctive, slow-growing prickly pear in Zones 8 to 12.

14. Plains

In the event you stay or journey a lot within the midwest, you’re in all probability going to return throughout the plains, prairie, or western prickly pear cactus (O. macrohiza). It grows wild in grasslands in its native vary, but it surely’s fashionable within the backyard the place it fills sunny, open spots.

It may also be present in northern Mexico and components of Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in Zones 7b to 11b.

The plains prickly pear is a petite queen that doesn’t develop over a foot tall, however will unfold 5 toes extensive with clumps of blue-green pads that may be as much as 5 inches tall and 4 inches extensive.

The showy, three-inch flowers are yellow and crimson, and are adopted by crimson fruits.

The fruits on this plant are among the tastiest within the genus, with a juicy texture and fruity taste. The spines may be over two inches lengthy.

15. Purple

The purple prickly pear (O. azurea) is an attention-grabbing species. It types massive clusters of six-inch-wide bluish pads on a plant that may develop as much as three toes tall and twice as extensive.

The frequent identify comes from the deep purple hue that the cladodes tackle throughout chilly climate. Younger pads emerge as vivid pink.

Within the spring, it types vivid yellow flowers with crimson facilities. Simply think about the distinction with the purple tone. After they fade, purple-red fruits develop. All alongside, the plant is accented by lengthy, crimson spines held singly in every areole.

Hailing from Texas and northern Mexico, there are at the least 5 naturally-occuring varieties and a number of other cultivars, so that you may discover specimens that develop bigger or have differently-colored spines.

This opuntia is pretty cold-tolerant and might develop in Zones 6 to 10.

16. Santa Rita

Santa Rita prickly pear (O. chlorotica santa-rita syn. O. santa-rita, O. violacea var. santa-rita) is an actual looker.

It attracts all the eye with its commanding eight-foot-tall, ten-foot-wide presence, but it surely’s the engaging blue-green, spherical pads that develop to about seven inches in diameter that actually make this species stand out.

A close up horizontal image of the purple and greenish-blue cladodes of a Santa Rosa prickly pear growing in the garden.

When the winter comes across the pads change to a hanging, deep purple. Within the spring, vivid yellow flowers rim the pads, which retain their purple hue till the summer time warmth arrives.

It has inch-long spines and the flowers may be as much as 4 inches in diameter.

With just a little pruning or in less-than-ideal situations, it’s going to usually develop a lot smaller, however observe that lack of solar means the purple gained’t be as intense.

This plant is indigenous to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico the place it grows in Zones 8 to 11.

17. Texas Blue

The statuesque Texas blue prickly pear (O. cacanapa) grows in arid, sizzling areas in Texas and Mexico, the place it could actually attain as much as eight toes tall.

The big, oval pads are as much as eight inches in diameter with a definite blue hue, and develop in a branching behavior which makes a dramatic assertion.

That’s earlier than you bear in mind the two-inch-long, reddish-yellow curving spines and three-inch extensive ruffled, yellow flowers. The blossoms are adopted by engaging purplish-red fruits.

In the event you suppose this seems like the right choice aside from the fixed hazard of being stabbed repeatedly by these vicious spines, worry not – ‘Ellisiana’ is a spineless cultivar.

Along with the dearth of spines, it’s additionally virtually devoid of glochids – one of many solely prickly pears with this attribute.

‘Ellisiana’ is appropriate for cultivation in Zones 7b via 11b. The species plant is hardy in Zones 6 to 11.


The shortage of glochids additionally makes ‘Ellisiana’ a wonderful choice for culinary use.

You could find cuttings obtainable by way of Amazon.

18. Tulip

With its blue-green pads and clusters of yellow and crimson spines nestled in a mattress of glochids, tulip or desert prickly pear (O. phaeacantha) is a sexy choice.

When the three-inch tulip-like yellow and orange blossoms pop up it’s really spectacular.

The crimson fruits are among the tastiest, having a taste just like a gentle pear. Add to that the truth that the pads can flip purple throughout dry instances and that is one distinctive cactus.

This species grows to about three toes tall and extensive in clumps with massive pads that may be as much as 9 inches lengthy. It grows all through the southwest and Mexico in Zones 10 to 12.

19. Wheel

Wheel cactus, often known as silver greenback prickly pear (O. robusta), is called for the massive, spherical pads, that are bluish-gray and as much as 20 inches in diameter.

You may simply see them doubling as wagon wheels!

A horizontal image of a large Opuntia robusta with red fruits growing wild pictured on a blue sky background.

Wheel cactus is endemic to Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico, and sports activities vicious two-inch-long spines. Plant it far-off from walkways. There are some varieties which can be spineless.

You don’t have to rise up near take pleasure in its show. At practically ten toes tall with lengthy branches of cladodes, this species may be loved from afar.

That’s additionally true even when the yellow, three-inch blossoms are on full show. These are adopted by tasty and engaging magenta fruits.

In the event you’re keen to supply it some assist, it could actually develop even taller. I’ve seen these vegetation attain 16 toes tall!

You must stay in Zones 9 or 10 to take pleasure in this plant.

So Many Opuntia Alternatives

Opuntia species are available in a much wider vary of colours, sizes, and shapes than many gardeners notice.

Whether or not you’re thinking about a fairly decorative for the backyard otherwise you need your individual provide of nopales and tunas, you’ve received a lot of choices.

A horizontal image of a prickly pear cactus in bloom growing wild.

What sort of prickly pear are you interested by? Which considered one of these is catching your fancy? Or possibly we missed one that you simply’re notably keen on. Fill us in on the small print within the feedback part under.

And for extra details about prickly pear cactus, have a learn of those guides subsequent:

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