Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Prickly Pear, Cochineal Nopal Cactus
Nopalea cochenillifera

Family: Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Nopalea (no-pah-LAY-a) (Info)
Species: cochenillifera (koh-ken-ill-EE-fer-uh) (Info)

Synonym:Cactus cochenillifera
Synonym:Opuntia cochenillifer
Synonym:Nopalea nuda
Synonym:Opuntia nuda

17 members have or want this plant for trade.

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Cactus and Succulents

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)
24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
Magenta (Pink-Purple)

Bloom Time:
Mid Spring
Late Spring/Early Summer


Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From woody stem cuttings
From softwood cuttings
From semi-hardwood cuttings
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

Seed Collecting:
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds
Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed; clean and dry seeds
Ferment seeds before storing
Wear gloves to protect hands when handling seeds
Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

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There are a total of 15 photos.
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2 positives
2 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Neutral Lokoliki On Jul 26, 2014, Lokoliki from Saint Helena, CA wrote:

Is it just me, or are there multiple plants with very different cladodes included in this species?
One kind seem to be more common with the skinny, long, almost cylindrical or crescent-shaped pads. (The one in Palmbob's garden photo.)
Then there is another plant with pads which almost look similar to Brasiliopuntia/hybrids or something, and look much more flattened and quite a bit wider. (Many of the "cochenillifera" on eBay, etc.) Am I crazy?

Positive DracoVolans On Apr 19, 2010, DracoVolans from Crestline, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

I'll vouch for the "grows anywhere" comment of another poster. I found this growing in a bouganvillea hedge at the side of the road. The thing was mostly shaded during the day, but it's green, firm, unwrinkled and healthy looking. It looks like it's spawned several new plants of it's own and the cactus hedge is slowly spreading along the boulevard.

I took a good-sized pad with two new pads growing off of that as a cutting. They have narrow joins between pads, so it's easy enough to gently pop it off without damage to the parent plant. The spines are pretty few, but watch out for some of them- they can be up an inch and a half long, but most of them are so tiny as to be nearly invisible. The flesh between the spines on the newer pads is a rich, deep green and smooth- a very nice texture to the touch, actually, and the skin gets progressively more woody and cracked closer to the ground if it's an old plant..

Now we'll see how it grows in my container-garden! I'm looking forward to the gorgeous fuschia flowers...

Positive Xenomorf On Nov 20, 2004, Xenomorf from Valley of the Sun, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

This species has been reported as having medicinal uses and the wood is used for furniture.

Neutral Monocromatico On Nov 11, 2003, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

This species (also know as Nopalea cochenilifera) grows well in almost every place Ive ever been. Humid, dry, moist, misty, full sun, partial shade - it just keeps growing. And, as the fruits are very attractive for birds and bats, the seeds are spread everywhere, and so this species propagates efficiently, turning out to be invasive under optimal conditions.

This cactus can be grown as a shrub, and may look atractive as it, and the spines wont do much harm since they are tiny and soft. On the fruits (and the ovaria too, the green part below the flowers), however, they are rigid, and tend to stick on you and penetrate in your skin. It will take weeks until you body gets rid of it, so be very careful when manipulating it to get seeds - or when manipulating the flowers.

Ah, the flowers. They are the good part of this plant. Pink, with many short petals, tubular, lots of stamens coming out of the tube and a long pistil, this is a good plant for hummingbirds.

It will grow in any kind of drained soil, and will resist to droughts, but you should water it regularly. It likes full sun and high temperatures, but will tolerate some shade. Can be propagated by cuttings and seeds (these need to be fermented, to simulate the digestive tract of the natural dispersors). This species, amongst other Opuntias, can be eaten once you cut the fibrous surface off the stem, although its not the tastiest food in the world.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Phoenix, Arizona
Scottsdale, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Nuevo, California
San Diego, California
Thousand Oaks, California
Valley Village, California
Vista, California
Jacksonville, Florida
Lakeland, Florida
Lecanto, Florida
Lutz, Florida
New Port Richey, Florida
Vero Beach, Florida
Dripping Springs, Texas
Harlingen, Texas

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