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OPUNTIA santa-rita

Image of Opuntia santa-rita

Audrey, Eve and George DeLange

Family

Cactaceae

Botanical Name

OPUNTIA santa-rita

Plant Common Name

Santa Rita Pricklypear

General Description

Beautiful purple and burgundy tinged blue-green, paddle-shaped stem segments and vivid canary yellow flowers make this among the most colorful pricklypear species. It is native to southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The spiny pancake sized stem segments are highly variable, growing more purple in direct sun, but may lose color entirely in too much shade. This large pricklypear eventually forms an upright, head-high, tree-like shrub with a short trunk.

In spring the uppermost pads put forth large multipetaled blossoms of golden yellow that draw a wide variety of pollinators. The flowers stand in striking contrast to the darker-colored paddles. The edible purple fruits that follow are too small to be used in the kitchen, but are highly attractive to birds.

This elegant cactus requires hot sun and sharply drained soil. It is ideal for creating a focal point in succulent pots or gardens and is particularly lovely under night lighting. Plant it as a fine single specimen in sparse modern gardens or alongside homes with Spanish architecture. As with all cacti, beware planting it close to high traffic areas or where children play. It has wickedly barbed microscopic spines, called glochids, that painfully stick in the skin and are hard to remove.

This cactus is vulnerable to cochineal, the white scale insect that afflicts succulents. Infestations tend to occur in very hot low desert climates or when the plants are stressed by extreme, long lasting drought. Washing paddles often and keeping plants well hydrated is the best way to discourage the pests.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    7 - 10

  • Sunset Zone

    8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    2'-5' / 0.6m - 1.5m

  • Width

    3'-5' / 0.9m - 1.5m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring

  • Native To

    Southwestern United States, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Upright/Erect

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Yellow

  • Fruit Color

    Purple

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Purple, Blue Green, Gray Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Purple, Blue Green, Gray Green, Burgundy

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Purple, Blue Green, Gray Green, Burgundy

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Purple, Blue Green, Gray Green, Burgundy

  • 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

    Yes

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

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

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    No