Prickly Pear Cactus: Flowers, Fruit and Shelter

Updated: Aug. 25, 2022

Prickly pear cactus blooms in spring and has benefits for wildlife. Here's what you should know about their flowers and fruit.

How to Grow Prickly Pear Cactus

Devil's tongue prickly pear cactusNoelle Johnson
Devil’s tongue prickly pear

Common name: Prickly pear cactus

Scientific name: Opuntia spp.

Zones: 2 to 10

Prickly pear is native to the Americas, where it’s a familiar sight in the Southwest. Some species are cold hardy and grow well outside the desert. You can come upon prickly pear growing in the most unexpected places, from Canada, all the way down south to the tropics. I spotted this devil’s tongue (Opuntia humifusa) growing in upstate New York. These interesting plants, with clusters of flat pads covered in spines, are good choices for container gardens.

Marvel at the beauty of cactus blooms with these 15 beautiful pictures of cactus flowers.

Prickly Pear Cactus Flowers in Spring

Prickly Pear buds ready to bloomNoelle Johnson
Prickly pear buds ready to bloom

Take a walk through the desert in spring, and you may be a witness to their beautiful transformation. Flower buds begin to cover the tops of prickly pear pads. The buds soon reveal strikingly, beautiful cactus flowers in a variety of colors.

Opuntia-engelmanniiNoelle Johnson

Prickly Pear Flowers OrangeNoelle Johnson

Species like this Englemann’s prickly pear (above) have yellow and orange flowers that appear on the same plant.

Santa rita prickly pearNoelle Johnson
Santa rita prickly pear

Some species of prickly pear have beautifully colored pads, like this purple Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia violaceae santa-rita). The purple color becomes more pronounced in cold temperatures and when they are drought-stressed.

How does a cactus reproduce?

Prickly Pear Fruit

Prickly Pear Fruit 5Noelle Johnson

The vivid colorful cactus flowers mature into a delicious fruit with a light, sweet flavor that some compare to a melon. Once the flowers fade, fruit soon follows. You can make jelly or wine from prickly pear fruit.

beavertail prickly pearNoelle Johnson
Beavertail prickly pear

Additionally, the pads of prickly pear are edible.

Check out the top 15 drought-tolerant plants that can handle dry weather.

Prickly Pear Wildlife Benefits

Curve-bill-thrasher-prickly-pearNoelle Johnson
Curve-billed thrasher

The fruit is also popular with desert birds, including this curved-billed thrasher. Discover the top 10 trees and shrubs with berries for birds.

Gambel's-Quail-CactusNoelle Johnson

Once the flowers fade and the fruit has been picked, prickly pear still offer other benefits beside their spiky beauty. Prickly pear also provides a safe haven for wildlife, including this pair of Gambel’s quail.

Next, learn how to grow a drought-tolerant agave plant.