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.

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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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Plants of New Jersey # 19 Sassafras


Young Sassafras Tree

Welcome! Today we are going to discuss Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras can grow up to 80 feet but usually is found as a small tree growing to 50 feet. It’s wetland indicator status is FACU which means that most of the time you will find this tree growing in uplands. The tree is part of the Laurel family of plants. The tree can grow in shade but does not thrive until a disturbance opens the forest canopy. It is typically found in forest edges, roadsides and old fields. The tree is a cloning plant where new trees are grown from its roots.

Sassafras Leaves

The tree is unique for a few reasons. One: Sassafras has three different types of leaves (especially younger trees). The leaves can be three lobed, mitten shaped or not have any lobes at all. The tree has green to yellowish flowers that appear between April and June. The second reason is the pleasant aroma the tree emits especially when scraping a twig. The tree is known to have cancer causing qualities so do not eat any of this plant. Berries are purple on red stems and ripen between September and October. Birds known to eat the berries include:

White-Tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontail are known to browse the tree as well.

Sassafras in the Fall

The tree, along with Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), are host to the Spicebush Caterpillar.

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