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Plains Prickly-pear Opuntia polyacantha


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Plains Prickly-pear
credit: Stan Shebs/CCSA

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Alternate name: Hair-spine Prickly-pear

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description Low mound of spiny, flat, nearly oval joints has bright yellow or sometimes bright magenta flowers.
Habit: native perennial shrub; mounded, usually prostrate; clump-forming.
Height: usually 4-10 in (10-25 cm), sometimes to 16 in (40 cm) or more; diameter 1-3 ft (0.3-1 m) or much more.
Stem: succulent, segmented, blue-green; each joint flattened, fan-shaped to oval to round, 2-11 in (5-28 cm) long, 1-7 in (4-18 cm) wide, about 0.5 in (12 mm) thick.
Leaf: spine, yellow to brown-black, becoming gray, usually curved downward, of one length or mixed short and long, 2-3 in long or more; clustered 0-18 per areole.
Flower: yellow to peach to magenta, 2-3.5 in (5-9 cm) wide.
Fruit: dry, cylindrical, spiny, becoming tan or reddish-purple, 0.6-1.8 in (15-45 mm) long, 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) diameter.

Warning These cacti have sharp spines as well as tiny barbed hairs called glochids that can be difficult to remove from the skin. The spiny pads often break off and stick in the noses and throats of livestock.

Flower April to July.

Flower May - June

Habitat Overgrazed pastures, grasslands, desert shrubland, pinyon-juniper woodlands, ponderosa pine glades, sagebrush steppe, chaparral; 1000-8000 ft (300-2400 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to western and central North America, from British Columbia south to California, east to Texas, north to Missouri, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan.

Discussion Also known as hair-spine prickly-pear, starvation prickly pear. Five varieties have been proposed. Considered weedy or invasive in some locations, this cactus is a nuisance on rangeland and becomes more frequent as grass is grazed away.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution Western Great Plains, into the foothills & lower mts. of the West

Site Preference Dry grasslands, badlands & eroded areas

Soil Preference Clay loams or rocky soils.

Wildlife Value Many wildlife species, including pronghorn, deer, and box turtles, eat the fruits and pads.