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Opuntia phaeacantha (Tulip prickly pear)
Flaigg, Norman G.

Opuntia phaeacantha

Opuntia phaeacantha Engelm.

Tulip Prickly Pear, Brownspine Prickly Pear Cactus, Purple-fruited Prickly Pear, Brown-spined Prickly Pear, New Mexico Prickly Pear, Desert Prickly Pear

Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Synonym(s): Opuntia arizonica, Opuntia canada, Opuntia charlestonensis, Opuntia dulcis, Opuntia engelmannii var. cycloides, Opuntia gilvescens, Opuntia mojavensis, Opuntia phaeacantha var. brunnea, Opuntia phaeacantha var. camanchica, Opuntia phaeacantha var. major, Opuntia phaeacantha var. mojavensis, Opuntia phaeacantha var. nigricans, Opuntia phaeacantha var. phaeacantha, Opuntia phaeacantha var. superbospina, Opuntia superbospina, Opuntia woodsii


USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

This prickly-pear cactus forms dense thickets 8+ ft. across and up to 8 ft. tall, though usually shorter. Common to abundant in abandoned pastures and old fields on stony soil. Forms low patches of flat joints, stem segments, or horizontal lines of 3 or more joints standing on edge, some tinged reddish purple in winter. Spines of 2 kinds: one kind 1/2 to 2 inches long and single, or 2 or 4 together, gray to brown or yellowish, sometimes pointing downward, and the other kind minute ones in dense oval clusters from which the long spines arise. Flowers showy, yellow, often with a red center, up to 3 inches wide, opening in April and May. Fruit fleshy, up to 2 1/4 inches long, purplish, flattened to concave at the apex, tapering to the base.

Desert Prickly Pear is an erect or sprawling shrub with fleshy fruit and brown to black spines. This species has a very wide range, and up to ten or more varieties have been described, making exact identification confusing. Usually the varieties are distinguished by pad size, spine distribution on the pad, spine color and size, and fruit length. Desert Prickly Pear has adapted to both the deserts of Texas and the cool moist forests of the Rocky Mountains.


From the Image Gallery

41 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 8 feet tall, often shorter. Stem pads may be up to 8 in. wide and 12 in. long, forming clumps often over 10 ft. in diameter.
Flower: Flowers 2 inches long.
Fruit: Purple, 2-3 inches long.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Orange , Yellow
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AZ , CA , CO , KS , NM , NV , OK , SD , TX , UT
Native Distribution: UT, w. CO & locally in KS, s. to AZ, n. NM & w. TX
Native Habitat: Sandy or rocky hills, flats, valleys & canyons

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Sandy or rocky soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay


Use Ornamental: Accent tree or shrub, Blooms ornamental, Showy
Use Wildlife: Seeds-Small mammals, Nectar-moths.
Warning: These cacti have sharp spines as well as tiny barbed hairs called glochids that can be difficult to remove from the skin.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Deer Resistant: High

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

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

From the National Organizations Directory

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

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX


Bibref 1141 - Cactuses of Big Bend National Park (1998) Evans, Douglas B.
Bibref 354 - Native & Naturalized Woody Plants of Austin & the Hill Country (1981) Lynch, D.
Bibref 995 - Native Landscaping from El Paso to L.A. (2000) Wasowski, S. and A. Wasowski
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

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


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

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