Eastern Prickly Pear - Opuntia humifusa
Habitat Will grow in open or exposed areas in rocky coastal scrub habitats as well as at elevations where winter is hardy. Prefers hot and sandy habitats.
Range Grows pretty much in the entire Eastern half of the United States, from Montana to the Eastern coast. It also grows as far north as Massachusetts on the Eastern shore and as far south as Florida. Opuntia humifusa even grows into parts of Canada. Found at elevations from sea level to 5500 feet.
Description Also known as the Devil's-tongue. This cactus is a perennial native mat- or clump-forming cactus usually 7.5-10 centimeters tall. It occasionally grows to 30 centimeters in height in Florida. The succulent stem segments, or pads, are 3.8-10 centimeters long and 4-6 centimeters wide. Areoles on the pads give rise to 0 to 2 spines that are 2.5-6 centimeters long. Flowers are solitary, 2.5-6 centimeters in diameter. The flowers (not shown in the photo) are yellow to gold in color. They are typically found along the margins of mature segments. The flowers are waxy and, at times, have red centers. The flowers bloom in late spring.
The juicy and edible red fruits are 2.5-4 centimeters long. The fruit changes color from green to red as it matures, and often remains on the cactus until the following spring. The seeds are flattened, orbicular, and 4.5 millimeters in diameter. There are 6 to 33 small, flat, light-colored seeds in each fruit.
The root system is shallow and fibrous. A caudex may develop in persistent stems.
Ecological Notes This plant is very intolerant of shade. It thrives in full sun and sandy conditions. It prefers hot and dry environments. It needs well-drained soil. Considered highly drought tolerant. Reproduces from seeds, by layering, and sprouting from detached stem segments and the caudex. It is tolerant of low-nutrient, acid, and alkaline soils. This species is monoecious.
Generally, this species is replaced by other species in advanced stages of succession, due to its intolerance to shade. The cactus colonizes disturbed sites and may persist through late seral stages of plant succession. It colonizes bare coastal dunes in some areas of the Northeast. On the dunes of southern Lake Michigan, it appears in early seral stages where it invades the beachgrass (Ammophilia breviligulata) which is a prairie sandreed community of young dunes. The cactus is found in late seral, shrub-populated dunes on the shores of western Lake Michigan where it persists after the invasion of jack pine and black oak. The cactus dies out if a tree canopy cover develops.
Personal Information This specimen was found while hiking at Jockey's Ridge State Park. The specimen was found growing in the sand right off the path, growing on the corner of two paths. There were a few other specimens of the same species in the same area. This specimen was quickly identified.
Journal Articles For information on Opuntia humifusa see
- Fateryga, V. V., & Bagrikova, N. A. (2017). Invasion of Opuntia humifusa and O. phaeacantha (Cactaceae) into plant communities of the Karadag Nature Reserve. Nature Conservation Research, 2(4), 26-39. doi:10.24189/ncr.2017.011
This study looked at two species of Opuntia within the Karadag Nature Reserve. Opuntia plants form derivate communities within degraded steppes, phryganoid-steppes, and semi-desert badland phytocoenoses almost at all studied localities. Opuntia plants are able to self-reproduce predominantly vegetatively, while self-feeding reproduction occurs less frequently. Both species can be considered as invasive plants because they have a high adaptive capacity. In the study, O. humifusa outnumbered O. phaeacantha.
- Park, K., Choi, H., Hong, Y. H., Jung, E. Y., & Suh, H. J. (2017). Cactus cladodes (Opuntia humifusa) extract minimizes the effects of UV irradiation on keratinocytes and hairless mice. Pharmaceutical Biology, 55(1), 1032-1040. doi:10.1080/13880209.2017.1286357
Cactus cladodes (Opuntia humifusa) is one of the cactus genera which has long been used as a folk medicine for skin disorders. The study investigated the skincare potential of cactus cladodes extract (OHE), including its ability to regulate ultraviolet B (UVB)-induced hyaluronic acid (HA) production. Findings indicate that OHE protects skin from UVB-induced skin degeneration in HaCaT cells and hairless mice.
Contributed by Tyler McFarland - 2018