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Beavertail Cactus Opuntia basilaris


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Beavertail Cactus
credit: Dylan Duverge/CCSA

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Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description Flat, grayish-green, leafless, jointed stems in a clump, lack large spines and have vivid rose or reddish-lavender flowers on upper edge of joint.
Habit: native perennial tree or shrub; many succulent stems with 1-3 spatulate to round pads, blue-gray to yellow-green, flat, to 14 in (35 cm) high, to 6 in (15 cm) wide, 0.5 in (12 mm) thick; clump-forming.
Height: 3-16 in (7-40 cm).
Leaf: tiny barbed bristle, yellow to red-brown, to 1/8 in (3 mm) long; held in clusters in many areoles; usually spineless, a few spines sometimes occur at top of pad.
Flower: large, frilly, magenta to pink to red (rarely white or yellow) petals, 2-3 in (50-75 mm) wide; at top of upper pad.
Fruit: magenta to pale green, maturing to dry brown-gray, barrel-shaped, 1-2 in (25-50 mm) long by 0.5-1 in (12-25 mm) wide; usually spineless.

Warning Most cacti of the genus Opuntia have sharp spines as well as tiny barbed bristles called glochids that can be difficult to remove from the skin. The bristles of the Beavertail can irritate the skin but this species does not pose the danger of species with long, rigid spines, such as the Plains Prickly-pear (Opuntia polyacantha).

Flower March to June.

Flower February - June

Habitat Open, rocky or sandy, arid sites: desert slopes, plains, valleys or canyons; 200-6000 ft (60-1800 m); also cultivated ornamentally.

Range California east to Utah and Arizona.

Discussion Also known as beavertail pricklypear. Four varieties are recognized. The gray-green stems, low growth, and brilliant flowers, which often nearly cover the plant, make this a popular ornamental in hot, dry climates. It need not be dug up; a joint broken from a plant will quickly root in dry sand. Opuntia with flat joints are called Pricklypear; in the Southwest, if the fruits are juicy and edible, they area called tuna by people of Spanish-American heritage.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution S.w. Utah to s. California, s. to n. Mexico

Site Preference Rocky or sandy plains, valleys, washes & canyons in deserts

Soil Preference Sandy or gravelly soils.