Opuntia macrorhiza (Plains Prickly Pear)

Plant Info
Also known as: Twist-spine Pricklypear
Genus:Opuntia
Family:Cactaceae (Cactus)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Status:
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry prairies
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:2 to 12 inches
USDA PLANTS database:Minnesota county distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. Most image enlargements are 50-100KB, though some may be larger. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flower] Flowers are showy, 2 to 3 inches across, with 7 or more yellow petals that are sometimes reddish at the base. A green ovary protrudes in the center, surrounded by numerous yellow or red stamens with yellow tips. There may be 1 to several flowers around the tip end of a pad.

Leaves and stems: Leaf type: simple

[photo of stem segments] With cacti, the spines are modified leaves and the fleshy pad segments are modified stems. Spines are up to 2½ inches long and typically straight, clustered in groups of 1 to 6, growing from numerous small projections (areoles) on the surface of the pad. The spines are not hooked but the areoles have tiny barbs (glochids) at the base of the spine cluster that easily detach and can be difficult to see, let alone remove once embedded in skin. The pads are a dull dark green to blue green, generally a flattened round, oval or egg shape, 2 to 5 inches long and 2 to 4 inches wide with a waxy surface. The segments do not easily detach from each other. Plants can form a mat up to 5 feet across.

Notes:

There are 3 species of prickly pear cactus native to Minnesota, and about a dozen in North America. The flowers of the 3 natives are more or less the same. Distinguishing features are mostly the size and shape of the pads and number of spines. Opuntia fragilis has much smaller pads that easily detach and up to 8 spines per areole. O. humifusa has less densely crowded areoles with 0 to 2 spines each. Plains Prickly Pear is way overlooked as an interesting garden species. It will thrive in any hot summer location, from clay to sandy soils, as long as site is hot and well drained. New starts are easy—just cut off and root a year old pad, any time of year. It also germinates readily from seed though maturation period is numbers of years. I've used long handled forceps and leather gloves to get at weeds growing between the pads—dangerous work, but worth it!

Please visit our sponsors

  • Must have book for 2014: Pollinators of Native Plants

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds

More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk, taken along a country road in North Dakota, and in a private garden in Lino Lakes

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jan in Brainerd
on: 2012-02-05 17:00:39

You should put some information about minnesota plains...... not just the stuff on the plains!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Duh

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-02-06 16:24:14

If you are looking for general information about the plains, there are many other resources for that kind of information. The DNR has fair amount of information about various eco-types in Minnesota. Here is a starting point: habitat descriptions

BTW, the Minnesota Wildflowers web site is designed to be a plant identification resource. We only mention the general types of habitat where a particular species may be found. This is intentional, as we aren't out to duplicate others' works, but provide info about MN plants you can't really get anywhere else. :-)

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)



CAPTCHA Image Reload Image


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.