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Opuntia polyacantha (Plains prickly pear)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Opuntia polyacantha

Opuntia polyacantha Haw.

Plains Prickly Pear, Hair-spine Prickly Pear, Nopal Peludito

Cactaceae (Cactus Family)



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

Low mound of spiny, flat, nearly oval joints has bright yellow or sometimes bright magenta flowers. This is a small cactus whose flattened, jointed, blue-green pads lie prostrate on the ground, occasionally forming colonies several feet across. Overall height is less than 8 in. Bright yellow, papery flowers open up to 3 1/2 in. wide. Flowers are often tinged apricot, and may fade red. The fleshy, reddish-purple fruit is covered with spines.

This cactus is a nuisance on rangeland, becoming more frequent as grass is grazed away.


From the Image Gallery

20 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Cactus/Succulent
Leaf: Green
Fruit: Red

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Orange , Yellow
Bloom Time: Apr , May


USA: AZ , CA , CO , ID , KS , MO , MT , ND , NE , NM , NV , OK , OR , SD , TX , UT , WA , WY
Canada: AB , BC , SK
Native Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan south through the western US as far east as Missouri, south to Chihuahua in northern Mexico
Native Habitat: Dry grasslands, badlands & eroded areas

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Clay loams or rocky soils.
Conditions Comments: Not Available


Use Wildlife: Many wildlife species, including pronghorn, deer, and box turtles, eat the fruits and pads.
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.)
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.

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

From the National Organizations Directory

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

Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR

Additional resources

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


Record Modified: 2015-12-16
Research By: TWC Staff

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