Prickly Pear Cactus

The flowers of the several species of Prickly Pear cactus are papery, large and showy, and are very similar so it is the size and shape of the pads (joints) and the spines that differentiate them.

Opuntia polyacantha

Plains Prickly Pear
Opuntia polyacantha

Family: Cactus (Cactaceae)
AKA: Hunger Cactus, Starvation Cactus, Hairspine Cactus
Photo taken on: June 26, 2004
Location: Almont Triangle, GV, CO
Life Zones: Plains to montane
Habitat: Dry areas, rocky slopes

Grows to 6"-10" with spreading stems forming clumps. Joints are mostly circular 2"-6" across with many spines from the same point. Flowers up to 3" across. Fruit is dry and spiny. Flowers can also be bright pink or pale orange.

Flora of North America reference.

Opuntia polyacanthaOpuntia polyacantha
Opuntia macrorhiza

Western Prickly Pear
Opuntia macrorhiza

Family: Cactus (Cactaceae)
AKA: Twist-spine Prickly Pear, Bigroot Prickly Pear
Photo taken on: June 3, 2009
Location: Pajarito Plateau, NM
Life Zones: Plains and foothills
Habitat: Dry areas, rocky slopes

Very similar to above but spines are strongly downward pointing on upper parts. Grows to 10" with flattened, dull green pads. Dark red fruit is edible. Flowers are often reddish in center.

Flora of North America reference.

Opuntia phaeacantha

Desert Prickly Pear
Opuntia phaeacantha

Family: Cactus (Cactaceae)
AKA: Brown-spined Prickly Pear, Tulip Prickly Pear
Photo taken on: May 19, 2009
Location: Bandelier National Monument, NM
Life Zones: Plains and foothills
Habitat: Dry areas, rocky slopes

Can grow to 3ft tall but usually hugs the ground in this area. Flowers often have reddish centers and can also be bright pink. Joints are oval, up to 10" long, with widely-spaced brown-tipped spines. Edible fruits are red to purple, without spines.

Flora of North America reference.

Opuntia phaeacanthaOpuntia phaeacantha - fruit
Opuntia erinacea

Grizzlybear Prickly Pear
Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea

Family: Cactus (Cactaceae)
AKA: Hedgehog Prickly Pear
Photo taken on: June 4, 2009
Location: Bandelier National Monument, NM
Life Zones: Plains and foothills
Habitat: Dry woodlands, rocky slopes

Flowers can be yellow or pink. Fruits are very spiny and dry. Joints grow to 8" and are clumped rather than spreading. It has many whitish spines pointing upwards and downwards.

Opuntia erinacea

Flora of North America reference.

Yellow Single Flowers | Pink Single Flowers