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OPUNTIA fragilis

Image of Opuntia fragilis

Jessie Keith

Family

Cactaceae

Botanical Name

OPUNTIA fragilis

Plant Common Name

Brittle Pricklypear

General Description

Native from the central and western United States all the way to central Canada, this pricklypear dispels the myth that cacti are only for warm climates. It is a low, mat-forming species bearing small, cylindrical or flattened, spiny pads that are specially adapted to survive beneath snow or dead prairie grass. It is also adapted to alpine conditions and is often found growing on upland, rocky outcrops.

Although they appear to be succulent leaves, the pads are in fact swollen stem segments (but are treated as leaves in the description of characteristics). The pads shrivel in winter. Bloom time varies depending on geographic location and ranges from spring to summer. Relatively small yellow flowers — sometimes with red centers — perch atop the pads and are followed by tan, dry-fleshed fruits.

This exceptionally cold-hardy cactus prefers full sun but is one of the few pricklypears that can also tolerate partial sun. It requires well-drained, sandy or rocky soil with average to poor fertility. It is less tolerant of harsh desert climates than other pricklypear. It is indeed fragile, with pads disengaging easily when spines snag on passing animals, its main means of distribution. They can also be easily detached by gardeners for the purpose of propagation. Wear heavy gloves when handling this cactus. Its spines and glochids (barbed bristles) are painful and fierce.

This is a pretty hardy cactus for native rock gardens, particularly where it can be nested in rock outcroppings, out of the reach of children and pets.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 3

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    3 - 9

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    2"-4" / 5.1cm - 10.2cm

  • Width

    12"-14" / 30.5cm - 35.6cm

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Western United States, Northwestern United States, Southwestern United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Mat-forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Light Yellow, Lemon Yellow

  • Fruit Color

    Tan

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    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

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Alpine, Container, Rock Garden / Wall, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    No