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Short Coastal Prickly-pear Opuntia littoralis


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Short Coastal Prickly-pear - habit and fruit
credit: Stan Shebs/CCSA

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Alternate name: Coastal Prickly-pear

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description This sprawling prickly-pear is most commonly found in coastal California, often in huge colonies, its glistening red fruits contrasting with its yellow-green stems.
Habit: native perennial shrub; highly variable.
Height: to 3 ft (1 m); diameter to 10 ft (3 m) wide or much more.
Stem: succulent, segmented; flat narrow pads, oval to obovate, spiny, 3-10 in (7.5-25 cm) tall, 3-4 in (7.5-10 cm) wide.
Leaf: spine, straight, pale yellow to white, brownish-yellow at base, to 1.5 in (4 cm) long; clustered 4-11 per areole.
Flower: pale yellow to apricot, waxy, sometimes striped with red, 2-3 in wide.
Fruit: pear-shaped berry, purple-red to maroon, to 2 in (5 cm) long.

Warning Most cacti of the genus Opuntia have sharp spines as well as tiny barbed hairs called glochids that can be difficult to remove from the skin.

Flower April to June.

Habitat Sandy or rocky soils; hillsides, beaches, washes, alluvial fans, bluffs, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, deserts, pinyon-juniper woodlands, montane forests, disturbed areas; 25-1300 ft (8-400 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Southern California, and northern Arizona; Mojave Desert.

Discussion Also known as coastal prickly pear, western prickly pear, shore cactus, coast cholla. Three varieties are recognized. It is most common in southwestern California, where is usually dwells in the California chaparral. Cochineal insects often feed on the Short Coastal Prickly-pear and a relative, Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian Fig). The female insect produces a red dye that is used by southern peoples for staining fabrics.