Cactus Flowers, Fruit and Shelter

Take a walk through the desert and you will most likely see cacti made up of flat pads covered in

Take a walk through the desert and you will most likely see cacti made up of flat pads covered in spines, commonly known as prickly pear.

If you are fortunate enough to visit the desert in spring, you may be a witness to their beautiful transformation…

Flower buds begin to cover the tops of prickly pear pads, which will soon reveal strikingly, beautiful flowers.

Flowers of all types of colors begin to blossom.  Species like this Englemann’s prickly pear have yellow and orange flowers that appear on the same plant.

The brilliant magenta flowers on this prickly pear, would make anyone stop to take a second look.

Prickly pear cacti does not only grow in the desert regions.  In North America, different species of prickly pear cacti occur from Canada, all the way down south to the tropics.

You can come upon prickly pear cacti in the most unexpected places.  I spotted this devil’s tongue (opuntia humifusa) was growing in upstate New York.

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

Like all prickly pear species, the pads of this Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris) are edible.

Once the flowers fade, fruit soon follows.  You can make jelly or wine from the prickly pear fruit.

The fruit is also popular with birds, including this curved-bill thrasher.

Once the flowers fade and the fruit has been picked, prickly pear still offer other benefits beside their spiky beauty…

Prickly pear also provide a safe haven wildlife, including this pair of Gambel’s quail.

Have you seen a prickly pear cactus before?  Where did you see it?

For information on how to grow prickly pear outside of the desert, check out this article.

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Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.