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Opuntia

 

Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear, Cholla

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassCaryophyllidaeCacti, many other succulents, carnivorous plants, and leadworts
OrderCaryophyllalesIncludes cacti, carnations, amaranths, ice plants, and many carnivorous plants
FamilyCactaceaeSucculent (water-storing) plants, often spiny
GenusOpuntiaPrickly pears

About plant names...

The large genus Opuntia includes prickly pear and beavertail cacti, both of which have stems that resemble paddles, many oval pads ½-1" (1.3-2.5 cm) thick. Cholla used to be considered Opuntia as well, but they have been reclassified as members of Cylindropuntia. Botanists disagree as to whether Cylindropuntia should be a separate genus or a subgenus of Opuntia.

This table compares some members of Opuntia.

 

Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear, Cholla)

(Opuntia) · 7/11/1999 · Florissant and Lake George area, CO · By Tim Chandler Species not yet identified

 
Opuntia aurea

Opuntia basilaris var. basilaris

Opuntia engelmannii
Common Name

Creeping Beavertail

Beavertail Cactus

Engelmann Prickly Pear
Plant These plants are 4-12" (10-30 cm) high, lying or growing close to the ground. Less than 24" (60 cm) high, spreading into wide clumps with hundreds of pads. Up to 6' (1.8 m) high, usually lower; in spreading clumps up to 10' (3 m) wide.
Flowers Yellow or pink, 1¾-3" (5-7.5 cm) in size. Dark pink, with a yellowish center; also yellow, peach, or salmon-colored. Yellow to red.
Leaves Glochids are tan or brown, ⅛" (3 mm) long. There are no spines unless it has introgressed with other species. Typically without spines, but may have short yellow spines. Spine clusters occur in diagonal rows of 10-16 across each pad. Spines are 1-1½" (2.5-3.8 cm) long, in groups of 1-6, groups about 1½" (3.8 cm) apart. No spines or very short spines, spines are chalky white, sometimes yellow.
Stem Stem segments are ellipse- or egg-shaped, 1¾-4" (5-10 cm) × 1-2" (3-6 cm). Pads are blue-gray, up to 7" (17 cm) long, ½-¾" (1.3-1.9 cm) thick. Thick yellowish- or bluish-green pads up to 10" (25 cm) long, less than 1” thick.
Fruit ½-⅞" (1.5-2.5 cm) in diameter, green, without spines. Egg-shaped, purplish-green Barrel-shaped, initially yellow-green, ripening to purple, up to 3" (7.6 cm) long. No spines or very short spines, spines are chalky white, sometimes yellow.
Range/ Zones

Habitats Pinyon-juniper woodlands and red sands Desert scrub, grasslands, oak/pine/juniper woodlands Desert scrub, grasslands, oak/pine/juniper woodlands
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence     Common

 

 
Opuntia engelmannii var. cuija

Opuntia laevis

Opuntia macrocentra
Common Name

Tuna

Spineless Prickly Pear

Long-spined Prickly Pear
Plant Up to 8' (2.4 m) high, usually lower; in spreading clumps up to 10' (3 m) wide. Low, usually prostrate. Up to 4' (1.2 m) tall. Pads are purple or purple-tinged green.
Flowers Yellow to red. About 2-3" (5-7.6 cm) across. Yellow. 2-3" (5-7.6 cm).

 

1 to 8 yellow flowers with red centers, along the tops of pad. Flowers are 2-3" (5-7.6 cm) in diameter. By Jodelet/Lépinay.
Leaves Spines are 1-1½" (2.5-3.8 cm) long, in groups of 2-6 (usually 3-5), groups about 1½" (3.8 cm) apart. No spines or very short spines, spines are light yellow. Spines may only occur on top portion of pads. 1-4 spines per group. Somewhat flattened, brown or white, often darker at the base. Sometimes has no spines, or groups of up to 15. Spines are up to 7" (17 cm) long! Longer spines are reddish brown to black (or rarely, yellow to red), turning whitish with age.
Stem Thick yellowish- or bluish-green pads up to 10" (25 cm) long, less than 1” thick.    
Fruit Barrel-shaped, initially yellow-green, ripening to purple, up to 3" (7.6 cm) long.   Fruit is deep maroon or purple, oval or barrel-shaped, without spines.
Range/ Zones

Habitats Desert scrub, grasslands, oak/pine/juniper woodlands   Desert uplands, grasslands, rocky and sandy areas
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence      

 

 
Opuntia phaeacantha

Opuntia santa-rita
Common Name

Desert Prickly Pear

Santa Rita Purple Prickly Pear
Plant Forms spreading colonies up to 15' (4.6 m) across. Up to 7' (2.1 m) high, may have a short trunk.
Flowers

 

Bright yellow with pale red centers, peach-colored, pinkish, or reddish. Up to 3" (7.6 cm) wide.

 

Lemon yellow, becoming more orange as they age. Flowers occur on tops of pads. Photo by Stan Shebs.
Leaves Spines are brown, reddish brown, or gray, up to 1½" (3.8 cm) long. Pads and fruit also have tiny hairlike spines that detach easily and are difficult to remove from skin. Pads are 4-8" (10-20 cm), tinged with purple; turning entirely purple when very dry. Spineless, or pink or reddish spines less than 1½" (3.8 cm) long. There are also tiny reddish-brown, loosely attached spines called glochids, which are irritating and difficult to remove.
Fruit Fruits are red or purple, up to 2" (5 cm) long. Barrel-shaped. Smooth. About 1" (2.5 cm) x 1½" (3.8 cm).
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 7-10

Habitats   Elevations of 2,000-4,000 feet
Type Wild Wild
Occurrence Common  

 

Online References:

Opuntia on Wikipedia

Opuntia on PlantSystematics.org

Opuntia on Desert-tropicals.com

Opuntia at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Center for Sonoran Desert Studies

Opuntia on Opuntiads of the USA

Opuntia on eFloras

References:

Britton, Nathaniel Lord, Rose, J. N., The Cactaceae: Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family, Press of Gibson Brothers, 1919

Bowers, Nora and Rick; Tekiela, Stan, Cactus of Arizona Field Guide, Adventure Publications Inc., 2008

Opuntia description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.

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Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear, Cholla)

(Opuntia) · 2/24/2010 · San Diego (Quail) Botanic Garden, Encinitas, CA Species not yet identified

Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus, Prickly Pear, Cholla)

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia) · 5/22/2009 · Red Rock Loop, AZ
≈ 9 × 6' (2.8 × 1.8 m) Species not yet identified