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Prickly Pear

Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri


Texas prickly pear often grows to 5 feet tall. It may be erect or spreading, with a more or less definite trunk. The pads are green to blue-green, round to oval, 4–10 inches long. The tubercles are 1 1/2–2 1/2 inches apart. The 1–6 spines are yellow, which distinguishes this species from O. phaeacantha varieties. One spine is longer than the rest, about 4 1/2 inches. Occasionally a plant is spineless. The flowers, 2–5 inches across, are often crowded on the edge of the pad. They have several greenish-yellow sepals. Petals vary from yellow to yellow-orange to red, often with the whole range of colors on one plant. Flowers have 1 pistil and many yellow stamens. The fruit is a prickly pear, maturing purple, very seedy.


Pasture along I 35 access road.


The prickly pear is useful to wildlife and domestic animals. Small mammals and birds feed on its fruit and find that the spaces between its spiny pads provide excellent protection. Because each fruit or tuna produces a large number of sweet, tasty and nutritious seeds (more than 200 per fruit) larger mammals from raccoons to horses have a reliable food source in the August heat when many other plants are struggling. And we have all heard that when the thorns are removed by burning in times of drought, cattle and other domestic animals will eat and survive on the pads. The prickly pear has a well-documented history of being useful to man. Matt Turner reports in his book, Remarkable Plants of Texas that, “Practically every part… including stems, flowers, fruit, seeds, thorns, and even sap has been used from prehistoric to contemporary times by every culture from Native Americans and Spanish colonial to Hispanic and Anglo Texians, cowboys and even connoisseurs of southwestern cuisine.”

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Spotted by

Belton, Texas, USA

Spotted on May 10, 2014
Submitted on May 27, 2014

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