Prickly Pear: A striking plant, Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) adds a touch of the desert to northern gardens. Its robust nature allows it to thrive in a variety of settings, though it particularly at home in dry sunny situations. Often associated with arid landscapes, this cactus surprises many with its adaptability, making it an excellent choice for a range of garden types.
Habit: Prickly pear cactus stands out with its broad, flat pads that are studded with both needles and spines. When in bloom, it flaunts vibrant yellow flowers, often with a reddish center. As summer progresses, these blooms give way to reddish-purple fruit. If you are inclinded, The Nature Conservancy provides guidance on how to eat prickly pear cactus.
Natural Habitat: Prickly pear cactus is versatile. It’s drought-tolerant and can handle various soil types, provided they are well-draining. While it thrives under the full sun, it’s also found on rocky outcrops, grasslands, and even some open forested areas, making it a resilient choice for gardeners.
Etymology: The name “Prickly Pear” is a nod to the plant’s thorny pads and the pear-shaped fruit it bears. This cactus is also referred to as “Paddle Cactus” or “Nopal.” The genus name (Opuntia) is derived from the ancient city of Opus in Greece, while the species name (cespitosa) indicates its tendency to grow in tufted clusters. — Desert Treasures
Distribution: Native to parts of North America, prickly pear has a broad distribution, found from the east coast stretching into midwestern states and down to the south. Adaptability is a hallmark, and it’s no wonder this plant has found a home in many gardens across the continent.
Learn More: The Virginia Native Plant Society has a very nice post about prickly pear cactus, using the “old” name Opuntia humifusa.