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Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly Pear)


Scientific Name

Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.

Common Names

Indian Fig Opuntia, Indian Fig, Barbary Fig, Cactus Pear, Spineless Cactus, Prickly Pear, Mission Cactus, Mission Prickly Pear, Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Smooth Prickly Pear, Sweet Prickly Pear, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Tuna Cactus


Cactus ficus-indica, Cactus opuntia, Opuntia arcei, Opuntia castillae, Opuntia chinensis, Opuntia cordobensis, Opuntia ficus-barbarica, Opuntia incarnadilla, Opuntia megacantha, Opuntia vulgaris, Platyopuntia vulgaris

Scientific Classification

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Opuntioideae
Tribe: Opuntieae
Genus: Opuntia


Opuntia ficus-indica is a cactus that slowly grows as an up to 16.5 feet (5 m) tall shrub. The root-system spreads horizontally. Stem segments are very thick, fleshy, oblong to spatulate, up to 2 feet (60 cm) long, and up to 10 inches (25 cm) wide. The epidermis is very thick and waxy, thus very water repellent and sun reflecting. Flowers are bright yellow to orange-yellow and open in the late morning. Flowering occurs on 1- to 2-year-old stem segments. The edible fruits are fleshy, reddish, ellipsoid, and up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) long.

Opuntia ficus-indica - Indian Fig

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USDA hardiness zones 8a to 11b: from 10 °F (−12.2 °C) to 40 °F (+4.4 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Though the large variety of species within the Opuntia genus means different types of Prickly Pears may need slightly different care. All are desert cacti that need lots of sun, lots of light, and very little water. If you live in a hot, arid area, these plants can generally be planted outside, left alone, and enjoyed.

These cacti will grow just fine in a garden, but they can be grown in pots as well. To repot, ensure the soil is dry, remove the pot and knock away the old soil. After treating any cuts with fungicide, place the cactus in a new pot and backfill it with potting soil. As with a new cutting, make sure not to water a newly repotting Prickly Pear for a brief period to avoid rotting its roots.

Opuntia can propagate either by cuttings or by seed. To propagate by cuttings, sever pads from a plant and let them dry so that the wounds heal. Then place the plants in dry soil and refrain from watering them until they begin to grow to avoid rotting them. See more at How to Grow and Care for Opuntia.


Opuntia ficus-indica is a cactus species that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is grown primarily as a fruit crop, but also for the vegetable nopales and other uses. Most culinary references to the "Prickly Pear" are referring to this species. The name "Tuna" is also used for this cactus's fruit and Opuntia in general. See more at Indian Fig Opuntia: A Fruit and Vegetable Rolled Up into One Plant.


Native to Mexico and is widespread in Central America, Southern USA, Africa, Asia, and Southern Europe.


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