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Opuntia humifusa (Low prickly pear)
Smith, Sandy

Opuntia humifusa

Opuntia humifusa (Raf.) Raf.

Low Prickly Pear, Smooth Prickly Pear, Devil's Tongue

Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Synonym(s): Opuntia calcicola, Opuntia compressa, Opuntia compressa var. allairei, Opuntia compressa var. fuscoatra, Opuntia compressa var. microsperma, Opuntia cumulicola, Opuntia humifusa var. humifusa, Opuntia rafinesquei


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A clump-forming cactus bearing few yellow flowers, often with reddish centers and flat, fleshy, green pads covered with clusters of minute, reddish-brown, barbed bristles. The oval, segmented "pads" of this prickly-pear occur in low mounds usually 8-18 in. in height but up to 3 ft. across. Large, waxy, yellow flowers with masses of showy stamens are produced singly or in small groups along the upper edges of the pads. A reddish-colored, edible fruit follows. Small, hair-like spines occur on the pads and fruits.

This showy native plant, the only cactus widespread in the eastern United States, is occasionally transplanted into northern gardens. Fragile Prickly-pear (O. fragilis), also known as Brittle Cactus, found from the Great Plains east to Illinois and Michigan, and Drummondís Prickly-pear (O. pusilla), occurring in the southeastern United States, have stems that are only slightly flattened.


From the Image Gallery

37 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Cactus/Succulent
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Fruit Type: Berry
Size Notes: Up to about 18 inches tall, except in Florida where var. ammophila may be erect and reach to about 6 feet tall.
Fruit: Purple

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: AL , AR , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , NE , NJ , NM , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , VA , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: MA to MN, s. to FL, AL & OK
Native Habitat: Dry, sandy & rocky areas

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Drought Tolerance: High
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Sandy or rocky soils.


Use Ornamental: Attractive, Desert landscape, Blooms ornamental
Use Wildlife: Fruits and cladodes eaten by Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornata ornata.
Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Ripe fruit edible raw or in jelly. Leaf pads, fruit and seeds. Use tender young leaf pads gathered during the spring. PREPARATION: Wash leaf pads, fruit and seeds thoroughly with warm water. Do not use dish detergent or any type of sanitizer. These products can leave a residue. Peel and cut pulp into chunks or strips and cook like string beans. Batter, roast or fry pads. The interior of the pad similar to okra and can be used to thicken soups. Cut pads into pieces and use raw in salads. Remove bristles before use with a flame or by wiping off with a glove or damp cloth. Or, bake the pads in a medium-temperature oven for one-half hour, then peel the skin with the bristles attached. If a knife is used to cut out bristles, wipe after each cut, because mucilage produced by the pads will stick to blade. Roast the pads in their skin on a fire for about 15-20 minutes per side. Peel and eat the pulp after cooking. Peel or cut in half and scoop out pulp before use. Chill and eat raw or pickle after removing seeds. Dried seeds can be crushed or ground into flour and used in soup as a thickener. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Use Medicinal: Amerindians poulticed peeled pads on wounds, applied juice of cactus to warts, drank pad tea for lung ailments. (Foster & Duke)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Glochids (minute bristle-like, barbed hairs in clusters) on the stems (green, thickened stems resemble leaves). Severe skin irritation upon contact. Symptoms include painful skin and eye irritation following contact; internal effects in diabetics from ingestion. Toxic Principle: Unknown; possibly mechanical effect of glochids.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Description: Seeds are best sown outdoors immediately after collection. Seedling will appear the next spring. Cuttings can be taken anytime during the frowing season by breaking off one or more pads at their joints and sticking in prepared soil. Roots should be est
Seed Collection: Collect seeds from the mature, reddish-brown fruit. Wear gloves while collecting. Rake the seeds from the berry (removing all pulp is not necessary), air-dry a few hours, and store in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Commercially Avail: yes

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE

Wildflower Center Seed Bank

LBJWC-MLE-27 Collected 2006-08-06 in Hardin County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

1 collection(s) available in the Wildflower Center Seed Bank


Bibref 417 - Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (2000) Foster, S. & J. A. Duke
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Opuntia humifusa in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Opuntia humifusa in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Opuntia humifusa


Record Modified: 2023-02-21
Research By: TWC Staff

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