Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Eastern Prickly Pear, Devil's Tongue, Low Prickly Pear
Opuntia humifusa

Family: Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Opuntia (op-UN-shee-a) (Info)
Species: humifusa (hew-mih-FEW-suh) (Info)

Synonym:Opuntia mesacantha
Synonym:Opuntia italica
Synonym:Opuntia rafinesquei
Synonym:Opuntia fuscoatra
Synonym:Opuntia compressa

6 vendors have this plant for sale.

50 members have or want this plant for trade.

Alpines and Rock Gardens
Cactus and Succulents

6-12 in. (15-30 cm)
12-18 in. (30-45 cm)
18-24 in. (45-60 cm)
24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)
24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
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
Light Shade

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

Bloom Color:
Bright Yellow

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer

Grown for foliage

Other details:
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
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
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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26 positives
3 neutrals
2 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive BerkshireGardener On Feb 12, 2014, BerkshireGardener from Housatonic, MA wrote:

I have grown this plant successfully in the harsh Berkshires of Massachusetts for the past five years, and it regularly tolerates -20 temps, yet keeps on growing and flowering! The fruits are a wonderful addition to salads.

Positive CactusBoss On Jul 19, 2013, CactusBoss from Crystal Lake, IL wrote:

Amazing plant, grows like a weed. Cuttings root easily!

Positive Mr_Monopoly On Feb 4, 2013, Mr_Monopoly from North Olmsted, OH wrote:

I just got this plant last spring and have heard many great things about it. I have seen it growing all over North Olmsted and surrounding cities. As for the people complaining about the spines, simple solution: DON'T TOUCH IT!

Update 11/14/13: Just got through a great season with this plant. It grows RAPIDLY, even in partial shade! The flowers are beautiful and bright yellow. They don't last long, but are nice while around. Still love this cactus!

Negative aliasjhnsn On Dec 17, 2012, aliasjhnsn from Marineland, FL wrote:

This plant is an unbelievably awful scourge in coastal Florida where I reside.
Any tiny section will propagate in the poorest of soil (pure sand!) and torment any mammal that comes in contact with it. The spines are barbed and once the have penetrated the skin are basically impossible to remove.
I have scar tissue on my left thumb from a serious run in that happened over a decade ago.
The best way to fight this monster is to fertilize! It hates nutrients! But, I have seen it literally growing IN saltwater in the Bahamas!

Positive LJinWBPA On Apr 30, 2012, LJinWBPA from Wilkes-Barre, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

It's too bad many here are not aware that there is a cactus that can grow in PA- and is native. My sister had one in her zone 5/6 garden for a few years until it rotted from damp conditions. This is super easy to grow, propigate, and needs no winter protection here, It's only pet peeve seems to be damp sold for long periods and poor drainage because... it is a cactus. The only hard part for me is weeding around them which is why I prefer them in containers. The spines are sharp but not the worst. I use them as handles to move the pads... the worst part is the bristles (glochids). I try to keep this away from walking paths and pets. The glochids tend to haunt later on and can take a day or so to work their way out of the skin.
I got mine on ebay a few years back. Not long after I have been sharing them with people. I especially like them for hanging baskets (but not near where people walk!). It's one of the few things that can take a small hanging basket in a sunny area. I have one a put in a small plastic hanging basket a few years back and put it on a front porch where it gets partial sun (these do prefer full sun however), and gets exposed to wind, cold... and only gets an occasional watering and fertilizer. The plant is huge and looks cool even in the Winter when it's dormant. It has an eerie sihlouhette. Unfortunately I do seem to gets bristles stuck in my for-arm every time I climb up to water it but I am surprised it has done so well.
While these plants do well here they don't get as big as the ones in say, MD or VA. THen again that may be a good thing for some people as they stay manageable. If you make a mistake with these such as over-watering you may get some rot, but I just cut off the bad part and use a small amount of any common fungicide. This cactus is very forgiving. Also I would not recommend this for indoor use as the glochids can be sneaky and insidious. They're too easy to grow outside anyway.

Positive Peterthecactusguy On Apr 28, 2012, Peterthecactusguy from Black Canyon City, AZ wrote:

Although somewhat confused I have some O. humifusa growing in my garden. I had to enclose them with wire fencing because javelina like to eat them. I give mine plenty of water once they perk up. They usually are the last of my Opuntia to do anything. Zero flowers yet but it's getting pads like crazy!

To the haters, glochids are a part of growing Opuntia. I brave them. I have been caught many times, and will continue to be. I have 23 different Opuntia (and hybrids). I know a thing or two about the glochids and I will deal with them for the lovely flowers.

Positive mikesmode On Sep 7, 2011, mikesmode from Detroit Area, MI (Zone 6a) wrote:

I have been growing Opuntia humifusa in Michigan for a while now. I have a photo library at This library includes pics of flowers and seeds and seed pods from my plants. I also have a library of native Michigan prickly pear at

Positive divenany On May 25, 2011, divenany from Lebanon, TN wrote:

I began my plant with two pads (or leaves) three years ago here in Lebanon, TN from a plant in Chattanooga, TN. From those two leaves, I now have a plant that measures 6 ft by 6 ft and 5 ft tall. I prepared a rock garden for it on a small slope. Please take a look at my plant in the pictures under this category.

Positive glochid15 On Jan 18, 2011, glochid15 from Parsons, KS (Zone 6b) wrote:

This plant, based on my experience, tolerates more water than most opuntias. It is also easy to propagate through pad cuttings (be sure to use either heavy duty leather gloves or tongs when handling). It tends to spread quite rapidly in the right conditions; even invasive at times. Flowers are usually bright yellow, but there are a few exceptions. In the wild, they are found throughout most of the United States and some parts of Canada, and tend to be smaller.

Positive agardenabove On Nov 29, 2010, agardenabove from Albuquerque, NM wrote:

I have been making jelly from the purple fruit of this plant for years. It is quite mild so this year I am adding some jalapeno juice to add spice to it. I wash, slit and cook the fruit, then either hang it in cheesecloth to drip or mash through a cloth into a colander. Then use your jelly recipes. The juice freezes for years if you cannot use it right away.

Positive concretephil On Nov 29, 2010, concretephil from Osprey, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

I eat this plant on a regular basis. It's a food source commonly used in Mexico. The pads are called Napols and when cooked the are called Napolitos. I pick them wearing leather gloves (learned the hard way), as another comment said, cotton gloves do not work.
Pick pads no bigger than 8 inches long, burn the spines off over an open flame, gas range works best, butane torch, any thing that has a flame that won't leave a bad taste such as a candle. I cut them in small strips, across the pads, simmer them adding a spash of cider vinager. Taste like green beans. Same thing for pears. After cleaning the pears cut them in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon and eat it like any other sweet fruit. In order to taste best, use only plant ripened very soft fruit.
I hate thorned things, except roses, so I snitch pads off of neighbors plants (with permission) or those that grow along the road or on the sand dunes by the Gulf of Mexico.
If you don't want to take the trouble, you can find them in any store that sells primarily to the mexican population. Have found that South American's haven't been exposed to them because the live in higher elevations where the plants don't grow.

Positive RxBenson On Jun 19, 2010, RxBenson from Pikesville, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:

(Aside from my childhood horror stories of encountering the spines on this plant, I have a positive to offer...)

In the Pine Barrens area of NJ, old-timers would plant this common flower in the rotted centers of old tree stumps in their yards, adding soil (here it's close to beach sand...) to the rotted humus.

The plants do shrivel something terrible here in winter, and I have often thought they were goners, but Spring brings them back bigger and better every year. (See my posted photos.)They are now encroaching on my sidewalk and I have to don the leather gloves and finally dig and relocate them.

The purple pears shrivel in winter, too. But sometime in Spring the animals devour them. (I thought they's have swiped them in the fall.)

I never fertilize and water only if we're in a drought and I'm watering their neighbors.

Positive mswestover On Oct 21, 2009, mswestover from Yulee, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

Just lay a broken piece on top of the ground and it will root. Nothing bothers this plant.

Positive CARPE_DIEM On Mar 29, 2009, CARPE_DIEM from Chicago, IL wrote:

Has survived 3 Chicago winters with no protection. Yet to bloom though.

Positive bt18 On Mar 21, 2009, bt18 from Union City, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

You can find this cactus just about anywhere in Oklahoma but is more noticeable in rocky and hilly areas of the state such as the Wichita and Arbuckle mountains and in the canyon areas around Binger, OK. I have seen it grow in many shapes and sizes, with or without large needles, round or pointed pads and either dark green or light green. I currently own some I picked up from Lake Texoma-northern Texas side and has bloomed every year since 2005. It looks terrible in the winter, shriveled and purple colored, but bounces back in the March warmth. I also saw some south of Mustang, OK, but the pads were very small and the glochids had much more fuzzy needles than the Texoma variety, making it much more difficult to handle. It has not bloomed since I acquired it in Sept. 2005. O. compressa is also a fast spreader in Oklahoma.

Neutral emeraldsgarden On Mar 20, 2009, emeraldsgarden from Fredericksburg, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

This cactus grows all over where I live and if you are not careful - it will take over. Fortunately we have a lot of shade, so we do not have that many. I can not remember how many times my children have fallen on them. The only good thing is their fruit! It makes a wonderful jelly and pancake syrup. It is very very sweet. It is worth the effort of harvesting.

Positive Menk On Nov 13, 2008, Menk from Darling Downs
Australia wrote:

The form with the bright orange centre to the flower is absolutely stunning. Hardly a very prickly plant compared to some other opuntia species and is low growing, so easily controlled. Often referred to as the "lazy pear" because of its reclining and creeping growth habit.
If you handle with a pair of salad tongs the glochids will not be a problem. Gloves are useless. If they get glochids in them you might as well throw them away and spines will go straight through. Don't wear gloves when handling any opuntia!
O. humifusa also grows in Australia in New South Wales where it is naturalized in a small area. Sometimes it hybridizes with O. stricta wherever their ranges of distribution overlap.

Re another comment below, O. vulgaris is not a synonym of O. ficus-indica, (or if it ever was then it must have been misapplied). O. vulgaris is an old name for (and therefore a synonym of) O. monacantha.
O. ficus-indica is a different species, and much larger in all it parts.

Negative 1cros3nails4gvn On Aug 10, 2008, 1cros3nails4gvn from Bluffton, SC (Zone 9a) wrote:

im sorry to say this with all those that seem to love this plant, but this plant is all around awful. it is imho very ugly, and cheap-looking. its flowers may seem nice, but they will only bring you closer to the dreadful spines that are brittle and nearly invisible so they break off into your skin, and punish you for getting too close to the plant with stings like tiny invisible wasps, whenever anything brushes against the punctures skin. the best way to rmove them is with a magnifying glass and tweezers, and after each has been removed separately, put duct tape on the affected area and pull off to remove any that are laying flat on the skin.. after tht put rubbing alcohol on. i think it reduces the skin's reaction to the spines

Positive Susanay On Jun 27, 2008, Susanay from Youngstown, OH wrote:

Love this plant. We originally found a loose pad just lying on the ground of an island in the middle of the Hudson River in N.Y.
The plant settled quite nicely once we replanted it in Youngstown, Ohio. Today it flourishes and has even managed to flower this year for the first time ever.

Positive Chantell On Apr 17, 2008, Chantell from Middle of, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

What a happy little plant! Nice and compact...petite little pads. Started with just one pad brought back from the beach. Didn't have a clue and literally just place it on the ground. Whaaa laaa...good sized clump growing now in 2 places and have shared with others. This one even seems to handle the rain and such without a second thought.

Positive CaptMicha On Jul 5, 2007, CaptMicha from Brookeville, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:

I love this plant. When I first found out about it, I was amazed that a cactus was native to Maryland since I've always thought about cacti as occurring in hot dry deserts.

I first saw this plant when we moved into our new house at the end of our communal private drive. It was situated in the cracked separation of a large, low rock in full sun, obviously shallow, poor soil.

For some reason, it was considered to be of no aesthetic value by my neighbors and was removed by not before I had collected a chunk of it. I wish I knew it was going to happen so I could have taken the whole plant.

I have it growing now in the shallow soil on top of the roots of a very old oak tree that isn't very full so the cactus gets a good amount of sun.

I never water it or feed it and it's very rewarding, gifting me with relatively fast growth, beautiful yellow flowers, and red "pears".

I've never tried the fruit but would like to this year. I haven't observed any animals consuming the fruit.

The plant turns purple and takes on a shriveled, mushy like appearance in winter but resorts back to it's firm, true green colored state once the weather remains warm.

The only downside is the thorns. They're tiny, hairlike and break when you take them out of skin unless you remove them very carefully and gently.

Positive KyWoods On Jun 18, 2007, KyWoods from Melbourne, KY (Zone 6a) wrote:

My neighbor has these atop a long, low stone wall in front of her yard, and when they bloom, it's a lovely sight!

Positive fishrepair On Jun 18, 2007, fishrepair from Worthville, KY (Zone 6b) wrote:

This plant is extremely easy to propagate. It sometimes propagates itself by simply dropping a new leaf to the ground, where it almost immediately roots.It is very hardy to 25 below zero and to sometimes to 120 degrees.

Positive shortleaf On Jun 24, 2006, shortleaf from suburban K.C., MO (Zone 6a) wrote:

Neat cactus, good for northern climes.

Positive raisedbedbob On Feb 17, 2006, raisedbedbob from Walkerton, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

American Indians poulticed peeled pads on wounds and applied the juice to warts, They dranks pad tea for lung ailments. In folk medicine, peeled pads were poulticed for rheumatism; juice used to treat kidney stones. Baked pads were used for gout chronic ulcers and wounds.

Positive wtliftr On May 14, 2005, wtliftr from Wilson's Mills, NC wrote:

LOVE this plant! In spite of the spines and glochids. It grows naturally in South Eastern NC. Wild animals, such as racoons love the fruits, which can also be consumed by humans. The green pads can also be eaten as a vegetable. Grew extensively on the grounds of my old Scout Camp.

Positive SudieGoodman On Jan 18, 2005, SudieGoodman from Broaddus, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

Sudie, Zone 8b Southeast TX
Potted rooted cutting in 5 gal. plastic pot. Placed in west flower bed. Prickly Pear gets good drainage and lots & lots of hot, Texas sun!
Mid-summer blooms are deep, canary yellow & beautiful lasting about 3 weeks. After blooming when Fall arrives, Prickley (pears) are ripe & ready for eating; similiar, in taste & process, to fried, green tomatoes.
East TX folks fry the tunas (red fruit) which are delicious.
Fireants invaded pot. I have an insect arsenal & discouraged fire ants who moved to another location. lol
Prickly Pear is a perennial; height is 6-12"; hardiness in zones 4b to 10b; foliage is evergreen; drought-tolerant; do not overwater (this is a desert plant)
propagate by rooted, stem cuttings.
no seeds; multiplies similar to aloe from roots making new plants.

Neutral JodyC On Jan 17, 2005, JodyC from Palmyra, IL (Zone 5b) wrote:

Primarily bees visit the flowers (both long-tongued and short-tongued), including Plasterer bees, Halictid bees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, Miner bees, bumblebees, and large Carpenter bees. These bees often collect the copious pollen; the larger bees are more likely to cause pollination. In the eastern states, the relationship of cacti to wildlife is less well-known than in the western U.S. From these western studies, it appear that the fruit and seeds are occasionally eaten by the Wild Turkey, Striped Skunk, and Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel. The fruit and stems (pads) are sometimes eaten by the Cottontail Rabbit, White-Tailed Deer, and Coyote, notwithstanding the spines. All of these animals occur in Illinois at the present time. Those animals eating the fruits help to disperse the seeds, which can pass through their gullets unharmed.

The Eastern Prickly Pear is a striking plant with beautiful flowers. It has fewer spines than many western species of cactus, but they are still fairly formidable. Sometimes this cactus can form impressively large colonies, if it persists at the same location for a sufficiently long period of time. The only other cactus with a similar size and appearance in Illinois is Opuntia macrorhiza (Big-Rooted Prickly Pear); this species differs from the Eastern Prickly Pear by its thick tuberous root, and two or more spines can appear from each of its areoles, rather than just one. In the past, the Eastern Prickly Pear has been referred to by various scientific names, including Opuntia compressa and Opuntia rafinesquei.

Positive Xenomorf On Dec 1, 2004, Xenomorf from Valley of the Sun, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

More synonyms are:
Opuntia compressa, Opuntia mesacantha, Opuntia italica, Opuntia rafinesquei, Opuntia fuscoatra, Opuntia allairei, Cactus humifusus, Opuntia caespitosa (Rafinesque)1830, Opuntia rafinesquei var. minor, Opuntia humifusa var. minor, Opuntia nemoralis, Opuntia rubiflora, Opuntia impedata, Opuntia calcicola, Opuntia cumulicola.

Opuntia vulgaris has been misapplied as a synonym in the past, and is not valid. Some still list it as a synonym though. It is actually a synonym of Opuntia ficus-indica as of the 2001 reclassifications.

This plant lies on the ground flat in the wintertime, very prostrate in the wintertime, sprawling out, less than 12 inches high. The pads look somewhat wrinkled laterally.
It is fairly rare but, some clones have gray or white spines which are borne on the areoles on the upper half of the pad only. They range from 0.8 to 2.0 inches long.

This is used medicinally for wounds, snakebites & warts by the Plains tribes in the Eastern U.S. Also used for mordant when dyeing.

Positive QueenB On Oct 15, 2004, QueenB from Shepherd, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

The most common prickly pear dispersed throughout the state, it does well here, and can be invasive in a garden situation if not contained. It's an easy bloomer that will produce loads of yellow flowers dependably year after year. Tolerates freezing weather.

Neutral palmbob On Apr 2, 2004, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

Small, sprawling prickly pear species native to the northeast US- grows great in Florida, and so-so in California. Here in S California it is a real miniature cactus, rarely exceeding 2-3" in height.


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

Atmore, Alabama
Gaylesville, Alabama
New Market, Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Black Canyon City, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Morrilton, Arkansas
Calabasas, California
Canoga Park, California
Clovis, California
Abington, Connecticut
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Milford, Connecticut
South Lyme, Connecticut
Big Pine Key, Florida
Boca Raton, Florida
Hampton, Florida
High Springs, Florida
Keystone Heights, Florida
Longwood, Florida
Merritt Island, Florida
Osprey, Florida
Sarasota, Florida
Sebring, Florida
Yulee, Florida
Augusta, Georgia
Braselton, Georgia
Monroe, Georgia
Chicago, Illinois (2 reports)
New Lenox, Illinois
Oak Lawn, Illinois
Watseka, Illinois
Anderson, Indiana
New Carlisle, Indiana
Parsons, Kansas
Louisville, Kentucky
Mc Dowell, Kentucky
Melbourne, Kentucky
Worthville, Kentucky
Falmouth, Maine
Brookeville, Maryland
Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Valley Lee, Maryland
Dracut, Massachusetts
Housatonic, Massachusetts
North Attleboro, Massachusetts
Detroit, Michigan
Galesburg, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Eunice, Missouri
Independence, Missouri
Frenchtown, New Jersey
Milford, New Jersey
Neptune, New Jersey
Whiting, New Jersey
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Bronx, New York
Cobleskill, New York
Spring Valley, New York
Staten Island, New York
Cary, North Carolina
Clinton, North Carolina
Elizabethtown, North Carolina
Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Greenville, North Carolina
Newton Grove, North Carolina
Athens, Ohio
Bucyrus, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
North Olmsted, Ohio
North Ridgeville, Ohio
Youngstown, Ohio
Binger, Oklahoma
Cement, Oklahoma
Chickasha, Oklahoma
Clinton, Oklahoma
Corn, Oklahoma
Mcalester, Oklahoma
Medicine Park, Oklahoma
Mustang, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Pocasset, Oklahoma
Sulphur, Oklahoma
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Union City, Oklahoma
Watonga, Oklahoma
Weatherford, Oklahoma
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Butler, Pennsylvania
Greencastle, Pennsylvania
Irwin, Pennsylvania
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania (2 reports)
Bluffton, South Carolina
Clemson, South Carolina
Conway, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Clarksville, Tennessee
Hendersonville, Tennessee
Jackson, Tennessee
Lebanon, Tennessee
Canton, Texas
Fredericksburg, Texas
Frisco, Texas
Shepherd, Texas
Whitesboro, Texas
Fort Valley, Virginia
Leesburg, Virginia
Manassas, Virginia
Stafford, Virginia
Kent, Washington
Malaga, Washington
Madison, Wisconsin
Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin
Waukesha, Wisconsin

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