Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Prickly Pear Plant Profile

 The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa or Opuntia compressa) is the only cactus native to the Mid-Atlantic and, though it looks like a desert dweller, it is perfectly hardy here. It is closely related to the Fragile Prickly-pear (Opuntia fragilis) from the Great Plains and Drummond’s Prickly-pear (Optunia pusilla), occurring in the southeastern United States.

It prefers rocky or sandy soil with good drainage. Plant it along a sidewalk edge, slope, or retaining wall.  It also grows well in containers. It needs full sun and to be kept relatively dry. Prickly Pear forms clumps and spreads slowly. It can be propagated by seed or by breaking off a pad and sticking it in the soil cutting-side down.

The plant is hardy from USDA Zones 4 to 9. It can survive freezing temperatures, though it may look a little sad when it dehydrates and wrinkles during the winter months.

The plant has beautiful yellow flowers in early summer, which are then followed by red fruits. Prickly pear fruit is edible as are the cactus paddles also called nopales.

Wear thick gloves whenever handling any part of the plant. The brown bristles and spines are easy to see and avoid, but the fruits are also covered in small, hair-like spines that can get under your skin like splinters.

Prickly Pear is a fun plant to grow that is a great conversation piece in the garden. It also beneficial for pollinators and the fruit is eaten by various wildlife.

The video was produced by Washington Gardener Magazine.

Audio and Text by Kathy Jentz
Video and Editing by Melinda Thompson

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~ Podcast: GardenDC


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