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Opuntia polyacantha (Plains Prickly Pear)


Scientific Name

Opuntia polyacantha Haw.

Common Names

Plains Prickly Pear, Hair-spine Cactus, Hairy Prickly Pear, Panhandle Prickly Pear, Starvation Prickly Pear, El Paso Prickly Pear, Grizzly-bear Prickly Pear, Navajo Bridge Prickly Pear


Opuntia arenaria, Opuntia erinacea var. rhodantha, Opuntia heacockiae, Opuntia heacockul, Opuntia missouriensis, Opuntia polyacantha var. arenaria, Opuntia rhodantha, Opuntia rutila, Tunas polyacantha

Scientific Classification

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


Opuntia polyacantha is a cactus that grows up to 16 inches (40 cm) tall and forms low mats of pads up to 10 feet (3 m) wide. Its oval, green pads are up to 10 inches (25 cm) long and up to 7 inches (17.5 cm) wide. Areoles are tipped with woolly, brown fibers and glochids. Many of the areoles have spines which are quite variable in size and shape. Flowers are yellow or magenta, up to 1.6 inches (4 cm) in diameter, and appear in early summer. Fruits are cylindrical, brownish, and with short, stout spines.


USDA hardiness zones 3b to 9b: from −40 °F (−40 °C) to 30 °F (−1.1 °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, then 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.

Learn more at How to Grow and Care for Opuntia.


Opuntia polyacantha is native to North America, where it is widespread in western Canada, the Great Plains, the west and the central United States, and Chihuahua in northern Mexico.


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