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OPUNTIA humifusa

Image of Opuntia humifusa

Jessie Keith

Family

Cactaceae

Botanical Name

OPUNTIA humifusa

Plant Common Name

Devil's Tongue, Eastern Pricklypear

General Description

Most cacti perish in moist summers and cold winters, but this low-growing prickly pear manages to take it all in stride. Native to most of the United States east of the Rockies, it owes its remarkable cold hardiness to its ability to shed internal moisture prior to freezing. The moderately spiny pads (which are not leaves but rather modified stem segments) virtually deflate in fall, becoming a shriveled shadow of their former selves. They bulk up again with the warmth and moisture of spring, soon producing their showy bright yellow, sometimes tangerine-hued, multi-petaled blooms. The bulbous edible fruits that follow turn purple-red when mature and have glochids (barbed bristles) on their surface. Fruits remain on plants into winter offering vital bird and wildlife forage. Though relatively low in height, plants spread vegetatively into large colonies.

This inhabitant of dunes and barrens requires sun and sharply drained average to poor soil, and is a natural for sandy or oceanside gardens, or rocky south-facing slopes. It works best in areas that receive little foot traffic, as its needles and glochids can lodge painfully in the skin. Container or trough grown specimens are also attractive and look great planted with other succulents.

The edible pads of this pricklypear were also used by native peoples as a mordant to fix vegetable dyes.

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

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    4 - 9

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    4"-18" / 10.2cm - 45.7cm

  • Width

    1'-3' / 0.3m - 0.9m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer, Summer

  • Native To

    Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought, Salt

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Yellow, Orange

  • Fruit Color

    Purple, Burgundy

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green, Purple

  • Bark Color

    Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Bold

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

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

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    No