This cactus species is native to much of the central United States, from the Great Lakes region south to Texas and east to Georgia. For the uninitiated, it’s often surprising to see a cactus growing in the heartland, but grow it does. Given plenty of sun, it will tolerate heavier soils as well, as long as drainage is good, but is at its best in open savannas and oak barrens, where it will produce a creeping mat of green, prickly pads.

We offer vigorous paddles, harvested from well-established nursery-grown plants. These will root readily and create flowering-sized plants within two to three years. Please exercise caution when handling. In addition to the large, needle-like spines, this species has tiny micro-needles that detach with even the slightest touch. Our favorite tool for planting and harvesting prickly pear cactus: metal hot dog tongs. We kid you not!

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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.

Additional information


1 pad, 3 pads

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