Plants of New Jersey # 20 Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa). It may surprise you to learn that there is a cactus that is native here in New Jersey. Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus forms mats of flat green pads. The cactus dehydrates its pads to prepare for winter once the temperature starts to drop and is able to survive the cold temperatures this way.

Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom (2)
Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom

Prickly Pear Cactus blooms showy yellow flowers come June every year. It is perennial and a new plant will not start blooming until its second year.

Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom
Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers

The flowers consists of 8 – 12 petals that are between 2-3 inches wide. Be careful touching this plant as it contains barbed bristles that will poke you if you touch it.

cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus in Fruit

The flowers give way to green fruit in late summer which later turns to red. Sometimes the red fruit will stay on the cactus until the following spring.

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Prickly Pear Cactus Habitat

Prickly Pear Cactus is shade intolerant and you will not find it in densely shaded forests. It can be found growing in sandy conditions (as seen in the photo above) or on rock outcroppings. Eastern Red Cedar is usually seen growing nearby this plant. It is not the most common plant in NJ and is actually endangered in a few states so if you see one be sure to leave it be!

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