plains prickly pear

(Opuntia macrorhiza)

Conservation Status
plains prickly pear
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5 - Secure

S3 - Vulnerable


Special Concern


Plains prickly pear is a low, succulent, spiny, perennial shrub that rises from tuberous, somewhat woody roots. It usually forms a 3 to 6¼ high mound but may also form a 24 to 60 in diameter mat.

The stems are prostrate or spreading, branched, and often divided into 2 or 3 segments (pads). The pads are not easily detached. If broken apart, the separated segment can send down new roots and form a new plant.

Each pad is greatly flattened, egg-shaped to circular, 2¾ to 4¼ long, and 1 to 3 wide. It is dark green, dull, and hairless. It is covered with a thick, waxy skin. It is usually fleshy and usually smooth but may become flabby and wrinkled with the approach of winter or when stressed.

On the surface of each pad are a number of woolly patches (areoles). Areoles are actually extremely short modified branches. They are widely spaced, mostly to 1¼ apart, and are arranged in diagonal rows. The row at the widest part of the pad has usually 5 or 6, sometimes 7 or 8, areoles.

Each areole is oval to circular and 1 16 to in diameter. It is covered with a dense tuft of numerous 1 16to 3 16 long barbed hairs (glochids). The glochids are pale yellowish-brown or tan at first, becoming brown as they age. They have minute downward-pointing barbs and are easily detached. All areoles usually also have 1 to 4 true spines. Spines are denser toward and on on the margins of the pad. The spines are white to reddish-brown, straight, needle-shaped, stout at the base, erect to spreading, and to 2¼ long. They are round or only slightly flattened on cross section. They are not easily detached.

The inflorescence is 1 to several flowers rising singly from areoles on the margin of the pad. The flowers are broadly funnel-shaped, 2 to 3 in diameter, and showy. There are 3 petals, 3 petal-like sepals (6 tepals), numerous stamens, and 1 style. The tepals are tepals are 1 to 1½ long, the outer tepals shorter than the inner. The outer tepals are egg-shaped and green at the base grading to yellow at the margins. The inner tepals are inversely egg-shaped to spoon-shaped and have an abrupt, short, sharp point at the tip. They are mostly yellow but usually tinged with orange or red at the base. The stamens have long slender filaments and small yellow anthers. The style is stout and has 4 to 9 stigma lobes.

The fruit is an elongated, inversely egg-shaped, 1 to 1½ long, to 1 in diameter berry with numerous seeds. It is fleshy, juicy, hairless, and green at first, becoming dull red or purple when ripe. The fruit has glochids, sometimes restricted to the upper margin, but no spines. It matures from mid-July to mid-September. It is edible.




3 to 6¼


Flower Color




Similar Species

  Brittle prickly pear (Opuntia fragilis) stems are only slightly flattened. They do not look like pads.  

Dry. Prairies, dunes, lakeshores. Rocky or sandy soil. Full sun.




Mid-June to July


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Subclass Caryophyllidae  
  Superorder Caryophyllanae  


Caryophyllales (pinks, cactuses, and allies)  


Cactaceae (cactus)  
  Subfamily Opuntioideae  
  Tribe Opuntieae  


Opuntia (prickly pears)  

According to the Minnesota DNR’s Rare Species Guide there is disagreement as to which species of Opuntia, O. humifusa or O. macrorhiza, occurs in Minnesota, but there is agreement that only one does. The Bell Herbarium at the University of Minnesota reports all collected specimens as eastern prickly pear (O. humifusa). Some authorities use the Bell Herbarium as one of their sources or their only source of species distribution in the state. BONAP shows only O. humifusa in the state. USDA PLANTS shows both species occurring in the state with similar distributions. The DNR shows only O. macrorhiza occurring in the state.

According to FNA, O. macrorhiza inner tepals are red at the base while those of O. humifusa are yellow throughout. The photos on the DNR’s Rare Species Guide, and photos on, show a flowers with red at the base of the inner tepals, making them clearly O. macrorhiza.


Subordinate Taxa






Opuntia grandiflora

Opuntia macrorhiza var. macrorhiza

Opuntia leptocarpa

Opuntia mackensenii

Opuntia plumbea

Opuntia sphaerocarpa

Opuntia compressa var. grandiflora

Opuntia compressa var. macrorhiza

Opuntia compressa var. stenochila


Common Names


grassland pricklypear

plains prickly pear

plains prickly-pear

plains twistspine pricklypear

tuberous prickly pear

twist-spine prickly-pear

twistspine pricklypear

western prickly pear










A well-defined, woolly, hairy, or cushion-like structure, unique to cacti, from which spines, glochids, branches, and flowers originate.



On plants: The thread-like stalk of a stamen which supports the anther. On Lepidoptera: One of a pair of long, thin, fleshy extensions extending from the thorax, and sometimes also from the abdomen, of a caterpillar.



A small, barbed or hooked hair or bristle on a cactus.



An outer floral leaf, usually green but sometimes colored, at the base of a flower.



In plants, the portion of the female part of the flower that is receptive to pollen. In Odonata and Hymenoptera, a blood-filled blister or dark spot at the leading edge of each wing toward the tip, thought to dampen wing vibrations and signal mates. In Lepidoptera, an area of specialized scent scales on the forewing of some skippers, hairstreaks, and moths.



Part of the pistil, usually a slender stalk, connecting the ovary to the stigma(s).



Refers to both the petals and the sepals of a flower when they are similar in appearance and difficult to tell apart. Tepals are common in lilies and tulips.

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    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  

Flowering Plant

    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  
    plains prickly pear      

Fruiting Plant

    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  


    plains prickly pear      


    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  

Young Pad

    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  

Mature Pad

    plains prickly pear      


    plains prickly pear   plains prickly pear  


    plains prickly pear      


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  Opuntia humifusa
Joshua Mayer
  Opuntia humifusa  

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus




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Other Videos
  Opuntia Macrorhiza in Oklahoma
Kyle K

Uploaded on Nov 6, 2009

A video of Opuntia Macrorhiza and its habitat I filmed whilst visiting Oklahoma in October 2009.

List of noticed companion plants:
Various tall grasses




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