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June 2007: Featured Plant
Opuntia humifusa var. humifusa: Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus

Opuntia humifusa var. humifusa: Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus

Opuntia humifusa var. humifusa: Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus

The specific and infraspecific epithet, humifusa, refers to the sprawling, prostrate growth habit of this small cactus, which along with the size of its flat wide cladodes/joints/pads makes it easy to recognize. Native east of the Rockies and described as common in the Coastal Plains of the SouthEast. I have seen it here in the Georgia Piedmont only on granite outcrops in very shallow to shallow soil. In cultivation it does nicely in artificial outcrops and in low-nitrogen bogs.

A very interesting, if unpretentious, plant beloved by botanists and Cactus afectionados. It reproduces vegetatively through detached cladodes (which are actually stem segments) that move during floods and root and produce new plants. Its leaves are small, deciduous cylindrical projections that only a botanist knows and loves. All parts of the plant have clusters of clandestine short, hair-like spines, called glochids, that bury themselves in your skin and produce irritation for many days unless removed under a dissecting scope. In its favor, however, it does not have the large spines found on most species of Cactus.

In June it produces large yellow flowers that slowly develop into red, somewhat fleshy berries that in late autumn fall from the plant. Yes, they are berries and are food for insects, raccoons and opossums.

Check the links at the bottom of the USDA-Plants Profile of this and other species of Opuntia for descriptions of invasive species of Opuntia and the use of the South American Cactus Moth Cactoblastis cactorum as a biological control of Opuntia in Australia, India, South Africa, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the moth is now threatening native Opuntia in Mexico, Florida and the SouthEast.

Images by Glenn Galau ©