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Desert Prickly-pear Opuntia phaeacantha


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Desert Prickly-pear
© Norman G. Flaigg

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Alternate name: Purple-fruited Prickly-pear, Tulip Prickly-pear

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description The Desert Prickly-pear is an erect or sprawling shrub with fleshy fruit and brown to black spines.
Habit: native perennial shrub; pads are succulent, flattened, oval to round, gray-green to blue-green, sometimes purple-red under stress, 4-10 in (10-35 cm) tall, 3-8 in (7-20 cm) wide, with brown to gray wool; forms small, dense thickets.
Height: 1-3 ft (0.3-1 m) or more
Leaf: spine, brown to reddish-brown, sometimes pale yellow to pale gray, brown tipped, 1-3 in (25-75 mm) long; held 1-8 per areole in radial clusters; with abundant shorter spines (glochids); rarely spineless.
Flower: petals bright yellow with orange or red base (rarely solid peach, pink or red), to 3 in (75 mm) wide.
Fruit: wine red to dark purple, barrel-shaped, smooth, with green flesh; 1-2 in (25-50 mm) long, 0.8-1.2 in (20-30 mm) wide; persists until winter.

Flower April to July.

Flower April - June

Habitat Sandy to rocky soil; deserts, chaparral, surrounding mountains, plains, old pastures, abandoned fields; 650-6900 ft (200-2100 m); also cultivated ornamentally.

Range Southwestern U.S., from California east to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas; also reported in South Dakota.

Discussion Also known as tulip prickly pear, brown-spined prickly pear cactus, purple-fruited prickly pear, New Mexico prickly pear, disk prickly pear, densely spined prickly pear, major prickly pear, Mojave prickly pear, yellow spined prickly pear.

This species has also been categorized as O. angustata, O.arizonica, O. camanchica, O. canada, O. charlestonensis, O. dulcis, O. gilvescens, O. mojavensis, O. discata, O. platyacantha, and O. woodsii.

This species has a very wide range and hybridizes freely, and ten or more varieties have been described, making exact identification confusing. Usually the varieties are distinguished by pad size, spine distribution on the pad, spine color and size, and fruit length. The Desert Prickly-pear has adapted to both the deserts of Texas and the cool moist forests of the Rocky Mountains.

Exposure Preference Sun to partial sun.

Native Distribution Utah, w. Colorado & locally in Kansas, s. to Arizona, n. New Mexico & w. Texas

Site Preference Sandy or rocky hills, flats, valleys & canyons

Soil Preference Sandy or rocky soils.