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Plains Prickly Pear

Plains Prickly Pear
Opuntia macrorhiza
(Order Caryophyllales; Family Cactaceae)


Opuntia macrorhiza. Photos by Amy Coffman, 2011.


Diagnosis:  Plains prickly pears are fleshly plants that form low, spreading clumps, although some can reach 3 or more feet in height.  They are perennial plants with flat, jointed stems and spines 4/5 to 1-1/5 inches long.  The spines have a pale or brownish color and occur in clumps of about 9 spines.  Flowers on this plant range in color from yellow to orange and have a waxy appearance.  Petals are numerous and slightly united, and the stigmas are green within the large flowers.  The small, scale-like leaves drop off early on young branches.

Flowering prickly pear (


Natural history: Prickly pears reproduce from stems or seeds.  Individuals produce many white, flattened seeds that are 2/10 to 3/10 inches long.  The fruit can be a juicy or dry, pear-shaped berry and often spiny.

Flowering period: May, June. 

Herbivores:  Jackrabbits, turtles and deer commonly eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.


Distribution: Found in the northern and southern Great Plains, the shrub- and woodlands of the Great Basin, the eastern Sierra Nevada, the borders of the Rocky Mountain forest regions, and the northern Chihuahuan Desert. It occurs from British Columbia to Manitoba southward through the Dakotas and Missouri to Texas and every state westward.  (See


Habitat: Commonly found on sandy, dry soils.  Often found on overgrazed pastures and rangelands.


Native status: Native to the continental U.S. and Canada.


Conservation status: Arizona: salvage restricted. Iowa: endangered.

Uses: Can be used as emergency livestock feed if spines are burned off.  Also edible to humans.

Video:  Food from Prickly Pear Cactus


Whitson, Tom D., et al. 1992. Weeds of the West. Pioneer of Jackson Hole, Jackson, WY.

Haddock, Michael John. 2007. Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. (link to

YouTube: Food from Prickly Pear Cactus:


Image credits:
Opuntia macrorhiza. Photos by Amy Coffman, 2011.
Flowering prickly pear:
Distribution map:


Submitted by: Amy Coffman, July 2011.

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Generated on 2011. This website is continuously updated.
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