Prickly pear is intolerant of shade. It thrives in full sun in hot and dry environments and needs well-drained soil. Opuntia humifusa will grow in open or exposed areas in rocky or coastal scrub habits as well as at elevations where winter hardy. The species ranges from the more arid areas of Montana southward to New Mexico scrub lands, and eastward to the lower Great Lakes, and to the eastern seaboard from the Florida Keys to coastal Connecticut and Long Island, NY.
As is the case in other Opuntia species, the green stems of this low-growing perennial cactus are flattened, and are formed of segments. Barbed bristles are found around the surfaces of the segments, and longer spines are sometimes present. The flowers are yellow to gold in color, and are found along the margins of mature segments. The flowers are waxy and sometimes have red centers. They measure 4–6 cm across. It blooms in the late spring.
The juicy and edible red fruits measure from 3–5 cm. As the fruit matures, it changes colour from green to red, and often remains on the cactus until the following spring. There are 6 to 33 small, flat, light-colored seeds in each fruit.
Some botanists treat this cactus as a variety of Opuntia compressa: hence Opuntia compressa var. humifusa.
It makes a great statemnet plant for the rock garden or that special place where you would like a small but interesting conversation piece. If left to grow it will form a large, prostrate specimen.
We carry both varieties; those with spines and those that have only glochids (tiny bundles of prickles).