Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifosa)

Pickly Pear Cactus (Opunta humifusa)
Pickly Pear Cactus (Opunta humifusa)

Common name: Eastern Prickly Pear, Devil’s Tongue

Scientific name: Opuntia humifosa

Family name: Cactus (Cactaceae)

Roots, stems, fruits, and seeds of eastern prickly pear may be eaten by a variety of birds and animals.
It is pollinated by insects.

Seeds of eastern prickly-pear are primarily spread when the fruits are eaten by birds and a variety of rodents including rabbits, woodrats, prairie-dogs, mice, and ground squirrels. Ground squirrels may cache the seeds, some of which are later eaten. Eastern prickly pear is one of the most important foods of the prairie pocket mouse. White-tailed deer may feed on eastern prickly-pear fruits in the fall and winter.

Snakes and lizards hide under the pads to avoid the sun. Birds, including northern bobwhites, nest in prickly-pear cacti, using the protection offered by the spines

Native range: all over North America, occurs from Ontario south to Florida; west to Montana and New Mexico; and east to Massachusetts and South Carolina. Eastern prickly-pear is rare in Ontario, Ohio, and Pennsylvania

Habitat: desert, grassland, prairie, and woodland communities; sandy or gravely soils but can also flourish on silty or loamy soils; tolerant of low-nutrient, acid, and alkaline soils.

Height:  3 to 4 inches tall

Light needed: full sun and shade tolerant

Hardiness zones: winter hardy

Bloom period: May to July

Bloom color: yellow

Growing Tips: highly drought tolerant; fresh seeds germinate easily.

Description: Rare in PA. A mat-froming perennial, clumping growth habitat.

Pickly Pear (Opunta humifusa)
Pickly Pear (Opunta humifusa)

I was surprised when I first saw this cactus growing in the forest of Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in Bucks County, PA. But since then I have learned there is prickly pear cactus species native to every state in the United States. Imagine creating a “dry garden” with the native Yucca (Yucca filamentosa). It would be a very striking garden using native plants.

Humans eat the stems, fruits, and seeds of eastern prickly-pear. The stems are usually singed to remove the spines and are then roasted and peeled or deep-fried. Pads can be dried for later use. Fruits are eaten fresh or dried and can be used for jelly or syrup. Seeds can be roasted and ground into flour. Native Americans have used the mucilaginous stem sap as a wound dressing .

Images: Copyright by Donna L. Long
Information : and other sources

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