Opuntia macrorhiza (Plains Prickly Pear)

Plant Info
Also known as: Twist-spine Pricklypear
Family:Cactaceae (Cactus)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry prairies
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:2 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. 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.

Fruit: Fruit type: barbed Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is fleshy, green to reddish, shaped like an inverted cone, 1 to 1½ inches long. Inside are numerous seeds.


There are 2 species of prickly pear cactus native to Minnesota, one of which is Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis), though there is confusion and debate over the name of the second species. Some call it O. humifusa, others O. macrorhiza., and still others are unclear whether these are actually distinct and separate species. In the meantime, the DNR lists O. macrorhiza so that's what we're going with. A rose by any other name...? The flowers of the 2 natives are more or less the same. Distinguishing features are mostly the size and shape of the pads and number of spines. Brittle Prickly Pear has much smaller pads that easily detach and up to 8 spines per areole. 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!

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More photos

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


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

Posted by: Jan - 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. :-)

Posted by: Jeanette - Mankato
on: 2014-05-24 10:55:03

Have prickle pear cactus that has been planted off my patio for about 8 years. This winter was the first that I did not cover it. I know others in Mankato do not cover them and they do well. This year my cactus is brown and limp. Will it come out of this? We have been wet here.

Posted by: Brian - St. Peter
on: 2015-01-19 01:09:38

There's a huge, beautiful plant of this species in cultivation at the Traverse des Sioux Garden Center in St. Peter. The owner told me that it came from a sandy area at the upper western part of the valley many years ago (the area has long since been converted to other uses, so no cacti are to be found there now).

Posted by: Lisa L - Quarry Park, St. Cloud, Minnesota
on: 2016-05-29 23:03:32

I found a few patches of these cacti growing in the granite fields at Quarry Park, near St. Cloud. They were just small, spines and (leaves) grew no bigger than my thumb, but they were there! I've read that these granite fields is one of the very most northern areas they are found. Quarry Park has numerous areas of unquarried granite fields, where you can find lots of flowers, and cacti.

Posted by: Jean - BLOOMINGTON,'m.
on: 2016-06-14 16:09:53

I have one in my garden,I've had it about 4years.I don't do anything to it in the winter.It's getting really big!

Posted by: Bob M - Olmsted county
on: 2018-05-09 16:25:56

Found on a goat prairie in Chester Woods County Park.

Posted by: Ethan - Eagle Park,Rockville,MN
on: 2018-05-13 14:59:41

I found a Plains Prickly Pear on a large boulder in the prairie in Eagle Park.I only found one but this cactus was large.

Posted by: Ethan - Blue Mounds State Park
on: 2018-05-13 15:05:45

I found hundreds of cacti here,most of them were Plains Prickly Pears but some were Brittle Prickly Pears.You will find these cacti near the rock cliffs.

Posted by: Lisa LeMay - Roseville
on: 2018-07-20 08:29:35

I have them on the south side of my house and they are very happy! People are shocked to see they can grow here. Always love to see those cactus flowers blooming!

Posted by: Amy - Saint Francis
on: 2018-08-22 10:54:55

We found some Cactus in the wild on our walk today. I had no idea it grew in MN!

Posted by: Thomas - Bemidji
on: 2019-01-22 20:56:25

I'm fascinated that cactus actually grow in such climates as MN.

Posted by: Edward Sievert - Pope co
on: 2019-04-11 10:19:24

I have one in my backyard. I rooted a pad that had broken off the main plant. The main plant can be found south of Starbuck MN on a gravelly windswept glacial hill. It is at least 8' in diameter.

Posted by: Amber - Oklee
on: 2020-06-01 15:44:03

I was given some prickly pear "cuttings"!! I was lucky enough to be deemed "that one person who would love them enough, to make sure they grow"!!! I'm super excited!! Wish me luck!

Posted by: Chriss - Saint Paul not far from lake phalen
on: 2020-08-22 23:09:55

I found these growing at a local park in east maplewood mn. I was pretty astonished and emailed a pic to the u of m for info. I think next year ill find a spot in my garden and search the local nurseries and online for a reputable seller.these are beautiful.

Posted by: Nadine Froderman - Reading
on: 2021-06-16 20:14:14

Where in our area might I find one of these? I'm in Nobles county.

Posted by: Cindi Brownlee - Hibbing
on: 2021-09-01 12:46:10

I have several of these.... 2 rather large beds.... about 50 plants each. Clay/sand soil mix.... extremely hardy.

Posted by: David Peroceschi - Stillwater
on: 2021-09-03 15:41:02

i have a large area of opuntia near my home Got the first pad in Colorado 2007 since then has multiplied many times over too bad I cannot show a photo

Posted by: Micah Boyle - Redwood falls / MN river valley
on: 2022-01-13 06:14:40

I'm from redwood county and these things grow everywhere out on the River bottom. As was stated earlier, they really like the granite bedrock and a lot of cedars around it and they kind of like hide under the grass, but there is usually exposed granite nearby or very shallow. I have some on my kitchen table right now and it is middle of January and we got to grow light on the rest of our house plants and it loves the grow light it's like sprouting buds all over the cactus big tall ones too but they are all happy.

Posted by: Vanessa - Renville County
on: 2022-05-07 06:10:27

I was on a conservation tour in renville county and was shown the granite outcrops along the Minnesota river. There were prickly pear growing everywhere.

Posted by: Janelle Olson - Minneapolis
on: 2022-06-03 12:33:42

Do you have resources of where we can buy native cactus in Minneapolis?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-06-04 08:54:03

Janelle, Minnesota Wildflowers does not track who sells what. Check with native plant nurseries.

Posted by: Nena Anderson - Fridley
on: 2022-07-10 09:55:14

I have been growing this type of cactus in my gardens in Fridley MN for over 20 years. I trim them back every year. They are very hardy and they just finished blooming. I have sandy soil and I have added very small river stones for more drainage.

Posted by: Derek Stephen Hollingshead - Statewide
on: 2023-05-06 01:12:08

Minnesota's DNR should conduct a genomic analysis of all suspected and present O. macrorhiza and O. humifusa colonies to determine once and for all, how many Opuntia species are truly present? Including potentially cryptic and introgressed species.

Posted by: Michelle - McKnight Prairie
on: 2023-07-02 17:02:29

MN county distribution map needs to be updated. They have been found and documented on the McKnight Prairie. I believe it is Rice County or Goodhue County- close to the county borders.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-02 18:19:00

Michelle, McKnight Prairie is in the southern edge of Dakota County, just across the Goodhue county line.

Posted by: Jay - Jeffers Petroglyphs
on: 2023-07-15 03:25:41

I accidentally stepped on one hiding amongst grass in bare feet at Jeffers Petroglyphs near Mountain Lake, MN. They grow all along the Red Quartzite there. I did not know cacti grow in MN until now. A painful yet interesting lesson.

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