En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Friday - March 05, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seasonal Tasks, Cacti and Succulents
Title: What to do about cold damage to spineless prickly pear?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


In Austin, Texas our 'spineless' prickly pear cactus is about 6' wide by 4' tall. In the last severe freeze, the top half flattened out and has remained that way. Should I cut the flattened pads off, and if so, should I paint the cuts so they won't get waterlogged when it rains or otherwise decay? Or what should I do with the cactus? Thank you.


The spineless prickly pear in our area is Opuntia ellisiana (tigertongue) , and is generally considered to be rather cold hardy, however this winter has done a number on them all over the area. A 4' by 6' plant makes a handsome specimen, and is worth the effort it takes to save it.

The plant may slough off the more severely damaged pads on its own, but Mr. Smarty Plants recommends being more pro-active and removing the flattened pads now. Cut the pads at the point of attachment, and the plant will produce callus tissue at the site that will protect against invasion by microbes, so wound painting is not necessary and is actually counterproductive. You may wish to remove up to one third of the height of the plant, but keep in mind the overall shape you want to achieve. The plant will produce new pads in the spring growing season.

Just because the cactus is "spineless", don't be lulled into thinking that the plant is harmless. Its "second line of defense" is perhaps more insidious that the spines, since they are not as obvious. These are the small hair-like spines called glochids that occur on the aereoles. They are characteristic of the genus Opuntia, and O. ellisiana certainly has its share.

The glochids have small barbs so that when they enter the skin, they are difficult to remove. The best defense is prevention; when handling the cactus pads, wear thick gloves. Be aware that the glochids do attach to gloves and clothing, so be careful handling them after the pruning. 

If you want more prickly pear plants, use the pads that you cut off to propagate more.


From the Image Gallery

Spineless prickly pear
Opuntia ellisiana

Spineless prickly pear
Opuntia ellisiana

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

Will Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri thrive in caliche soil?
December 02, 2014 - I live on a high hill in the Hamilton Pool area outside of Austin. I am looking to plant a Dasylirion wheeleri that I grew from seed collected in New Mexico aria East Of Soccoro. I am wondering if the...
view the full question and answer

Container plant in difficult sun exposure from Leander TX
June 06, 2014 - HELP!!!! I have a large Mexican terracotta pot on my front porch. This awkward area is facing westward, so receives the full dose of Texas sun after about 3 pm onward. Now here's the catch; my fr...
view the full question and answer

Should I remove the flowering stalk from my Dasylirion leioiphyllum?
March 23, 2009 - We transplanted a plant that is new to us but going through your photos on your website, it appears that we have a Dasylirion Leiophy. My question is this.. Are we supposed to cut the 6' stem that f...
view the full question and answer

Plants for 100 gal. pot by pool from Ft. Worth TX
June 23, 2012 - What North Texas evergreen or combination of evergreen plants, bushes or trees could thrive in a huge, 100-gallon clay pot (immovable!) that is situated in full sun year round in an exposed area n...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of Agave suckers
November 18, 2014 - I'm trying to transplant Dragon Toes Agave suckers. Is this similar to other agave pup transplants?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center