Prickly Pear Cactus


There are many species, cultivars and varieties of drought tolerant Opuntia.

Texas prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) may be seen all over South and West Texas, growing along roadsides and in rocky Hill Country areas. It’s a common one in gardens, since it’s easy to find and cultivate.

Cultivated choices include tiny, very prickly ‘Bunny Ears’ (Opuntia microdasys) perfect for containers, “spineless” varieties, and ‘Santa Rita,’ a real show-stopper with vibrant purple pads.

Large species get tall and wide, so give them lots of room away from foot traffic areas.

Plant in full sun in rocky, very well-drained soil. If you have any clay in your soil at all, considering planting prickly pear on elevated berms with added decomposed granite to prevent rotting in cool/wet winters.

Although they don’t need much water, do irrigate when it’s hot and dry.

In warm weather, propagate or shape by cutting off pads and letting them dry a few days before replanting in well-drained, gritty soil.

In late spring, Opuntias are covered with gorgeous yellow to pink or red flowers (depending on species and cultivar) that attract all kinds of pollinators.

The tunas, or fruit, are edible, as are the pads, known as nopalitos, once the spines are removed, of course.

Get recipes from the Lady Bird Johnson Taste of Place.

Texas A&M AgriLife Entomologist Wizzie Brown explains how to handle insect pests on cactus.