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
View this plant in a garden


Cactus and Succulents

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Sun to Partial Shade


Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us


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)

Where to Grow:

Unknown - Tell us


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

Bloom Color:

Magenta (pink-purple)

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Mid Spring

Late Spring/Early Summer

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

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


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Phoenix, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Nuevo, California

San Diego, California

Thousand Oaks, California


Vista, California(9 reports)

Hollywood, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida

Lakeland, Florida

Lecanto, Florida

Lutz, Florida

New Port Richey, Florida

Vero Beach, Florida

West Palm Beach, Florida

Dripping Springs, Texas

Harlingen, Texas

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Jul 26, 2014, Lokoliki from Escondido, 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?


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 ... read more


On Nov 20, 2004, Xenomorf from Phoenix, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

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


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 flower... read more