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Devil's-tongue Opuntia humifusa


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Devil's-tongue in flower
credit: dogtooth77/CCSA

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Alternate name: Eastern Prickly-pear, Brittle Cactus

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description A mat or clump-forming cactus bearing few yellow flowers, often with reddish centers and flat, fleshy, green pads covered with clusters of minute, reddish-brown, barbed bristles.
Habit: native perennial shrub; usually prostrate and mounded; sometimes erect and tree-like in far south; stems succulent, with 1-2+ flattened, round to oval pads, each 2-7 in (5-17.5 cm) tall, 1.5-5 in (4-12.5 mm) wide, to 1/2 in (12 mm) thick.
Height: 2-8 in (75-20 cm), sometimes to 6 ft (2 m) or more; width to 3 ft (1 m).
Leaf: spine, white to brown, 1-2.5 in (2.5-6 cm) long, clustered 1-3 per areole; usually single or spineless.
Flower: frilly, pale yellow to gold, around 2-3 in (50-75 mm) wide; petals sometimes red at base.
Fruit: long vase-shaped berry, green turning pale orange to purple-red, to 2 in (5 cm) long, to 0.8 in (2 cm) wide; may persist until spring.

Warning Care should be taken in handling this plant, since the minute, tufted, barbed bristles (glochids) at the base of the spines can be more troublesome than the spines typical of most cacti; they are lined with backward-pointing hooks, making them nearly impossible to remove from the skin.

Flower February to August depending on location, or year-round in far south.

Flower May - July

Habitat Prefers dry sandy locations: wooded hillsides, coastal dunes, prairies, savannas, scrub woodland flats, pine woods, cedar glades, sagebrush, rock outcrops; to 3300 ft (1000 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to eastern and central North America, naturalized northward; Ontario, New York and Massachusetts, south to Florida, west to New Mexico, north to Montana and Minnesota; not reported in Wyoming or North Dakota.

Discussion Also known as eastern prickly pear, low prickly pear, smooth prickly pear, hardy prickly-pear, prickly pear, prickly pear cactus, Florida devil's-tongue. Up to three varieties have been proposed. Listed for some kind of protection in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. This showy native plant, the only cactus widespread in the eastern United States, is occasionally transplanted into northern gardens.

Fragile Prickly-pear (O. fragilis), also known as Brittle Cactus, found from the Great Plains east to Illinois and Michigan, and Drummond's Prickly-pear (O. pusilla), occurring in the southeastern United States, have stems that are only slightly flattened.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution Massachusetts to Minnesota, s. to Florida, Alabama & Oklahoma

Site Preference Dry, sandy & rocky areas

Soil Preference Sandy or rocky soils.