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OPUNTIA basilaris

Image of Opuntia basilaris

John Rickard

Family

Cactaceae

Botanical Name

OPUNTIA basilaris

Plant Common Name

Beavertail Pricklypear

General Description

Beautiful icy blue stem pads and big bold flowers distinguish this low-growing cactus as one of the most garden-worthy pricklypears. The magenta to red, gold-centered flowers of this North American desert native are sometimes nearly as broad as the beaver-tail shaped pads which bear them. They bloom in late winter and early spring, in response to winter rains. Tan, dry-fleshed, relatively small prickly pears follow the flowers. Plants spread to form broad, calf-high clumps, with each stem comprising one to three pads.

Beavertail pricklypear often lacks large primary spines, but don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s not armed. Each pad (which is not a leaf but rather a modified stem segment) bears regularly spaced tubercles packed with microscopic hair-like glochids. The lightest brush embeds them in the skin, leading in some cases to severe dermatitis. Their small size makes them very difficult to remove. Use tweezers and a magnifying glass or hair removal wax to extract them.

This beautiful sun-loving plant is a natural for a desert garden, requiring less water than most others of its spiny kin. The pads wrinkle and shrivel in severe drought, but quickly swell after rain. Plant this pricklypear in relatively dry soil by itself or with other drought-loving desert plants.

Although the pads are not actually leaves, they are treated as such in the following list of characteristics.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    10 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    7 - 10

  • Sunset Zone

    2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    8"-16" / 20.3cm - 40.6cm

  • Width

    3'-6' / 0.9m - 1.8m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Late Winter

  • Native To

    Southwestern United States, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought, Salt

  • Growth Rate

    Very Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Spreading

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Purple, Magenta

  • Fruit Color

    Tan

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Blue Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Bold

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Container, Edible, Feature Plant, Groundcover, Houseplant, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    No