Prickly Pear Cactus

IMG_0956I often make deliveries to a dentist who has an interesting bed outside of his office. The location is hot and dry and receives full sun. Instead of growing annuals or perennials that need a lot of watering, he’s gone with a true xeriscape – gardening that either reduces or eliminates the need for watering. This bed is filled with yucca and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia hunifusa).

It amazes me to see a cactus that can grow here in PA. When the bed is in full bloom, it’s beautiful. One time when I was there I asked if I could cut a few of the prickly pear pads to root and grow for myself. They were happy to let me take some cutting though I was warned to be careful not to touch the plants because of the small spines.

Prickly Pear Pads

Prickly Pear Pads

They were right to warn me.  The prickly pear has two kinds of spines. The large, smooth, fixed spines are easy to see and avoid – also this variety doesn’t have too many of these spines. The real “danger” is the small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. If you get some of these glochids in the skin of your finger, you’ll feel them but it’s often difficult to see them and even harder to remove them. That’s why I was warned about this cactus!

Potted Cuttings

Potted Cuttings

Once I got the cuttings home, I left them on a shelf for about a week, giving the wounds time to develop a callous that would protect the plant from bacteria and fungi. I made my own cactus potting mix by combining one part potting mix with one part sand. The cuttings were put into the mix so that about half of the pad was in the soil. I then put the pot in a bright window to allow the cutting to root.

I was shocked at how fast these cacti rooted. Within a couple of weeks I could feel that the cuttings had rooted and I moved the pot outside into full sun.

The cuttings that I took had some flower buds on them. I didn’t bother taking them off; I assumed that the stress of cutting and rooting would cause the plant to slough off the buds. The surprising thing is that the bud stayed healthy and have started to blossom!

I love the blossoms of this variety. The bright yellow petals with a fleshy pink color at their base makes for an interesting bloom. Like most cacti, the blossoms don’t last long but while they’re open, they look great. Later in the season these cacti put on another show, covering themselves with bright red fruit.

I’ve heard that prickly pears can become somewhat invasive so I’m debating about that to do with the plants. I’m thinking that I might put one plant in the garden in a hot, sunny spot and keep the other two in a pot. Time will tell which will be the best way to grow these cacti.

I look forward to learning more about how these plants grow. So far, I’m impressed with how easy they were to propagate and how great the blossoms look. I’m glad I asked the dentist about taking some cuttings – I got some free plants and the chance to bring some prickly pear cacti into the garden.




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