How To Plant, Grow, And Care For Opuntia
SEP 12, 2021
Succulents are one of the most fun and creative ways to spruce up your home and garden. They come in endless varieties, colors, shapes, and sizes. A very popular option to add to your succulent collection is the opuntia.
From opuntia ficus-indica to opuntia microdasys and the varieties of opuntia cactus, there are so many to choose from. Opuntia are easy to take care of and should be added to your succulent gardens today. Lula’s Garden is here to fill you in on all things opuntia.
What Is Opuntia, Anyways?
If you want to own your very own opuntia, let’s start at the beginning with the basics. Get to know your plant before you make the purchase.
The opuntia is a commonly-owned cactus. This cactus is most distinctly characterized by its prickly pear shapes. These prickly pears resemble actual pears or are sometimes noted as resembling rounded ears. For this reason, the opuntia is commonly referred to as the prickly pear cactus.
There are many different types of opuntia cactus. The varieties to choose from allow your garden, yard, or home to have incredibly unique-looking cacti.
The opuntia can be found in many different parts of the world, including:
- Southern Europe
- New Mexico
Naturally growing prickly pear cacti can be found in many places. They typically thrive in hot climates, as they are cacti. This prickly pear cactus does not need excessive watering. It has adapted itself to store up water whenever it has rained or been watered. It also uses sunlight as energy, which allows it to live in desert climates.
Most opuntia varieties can grow as tall as six feet. Several types of opuntia cacti are able to bloom gorgeous, vibrant flowers under the right conditions.
Sometimes, the prickly pears are bright or pale pink. Other times, the extension of the cactus resembles a rounded-ear shape.
A unique feature of cacti compared to succulents is the presence of areoles. This circular feature on the prickly pear cactus contains a hair-like, prickly needle. This needle is what you are probably picturing when you think of a cactus. They are sharp and tend to prick you if your finger touches it.
An opuntia cactus typically cannot survive harsh winters or frost. You are going to want to make sure this prickly pear cactus does not get exposed to your winter weather.
The name “opuntia” is typically very hard for people to pronounce, initially. Here’s how to pronounce opuntia:
- The British version: uh-poon-cha
- The American version: oh-pun-chee-uh
There are two ways to pronounce opuntia because different parts of the world disagree on the correct pronunciation. If you choose one of the two options listed above, you are sure to get it right.
Interestingly enough, the eastern prickly pear (opuntia humifusa) grows a pear that is edible. While it is edible, it is not necessarily sweet. However, the flesh from the opuntia ficus-indica prickly pear is very sweet to eat!
There Are Opuntia Options Everywhere You Look
There are so many opuntia cacti to choose from. The options are endless. Even with these options, there are still some more famous types to note:
- Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian Fig, sweet prickly pear)
- Opuntia microdasys (Angel’s wings, bunny ears, polka-dot cactus)
- Prickly pear cactus (the general name for most opuntia variations)
While these opuntia cacti are most commonly discussed and owned, there is still a bit to learn about each type.
The opuntia ficus-indica is known by several nicknames. The most popular nicknames are the Indian fig and the sweet prickly pear. This opuntia cactus grows a fleshy, prickly pear that is sweet to eat. It is believed that this cactus was harvested for its sweet flesh since ancient times.
This sweet prickly pear cactus is tree-like in form, once it reaches full maturity. At that point, the root and trunk systems are very strong and sturdy. The flowers that bloom from this opuntia cactus are vibrant red, yellow, or orange. The spines found on the opuntia ficus-indica are formed in small clusters.
While it grows natively in many parts of the world, it is considered an invasive species in Kenya and Tanzania.
Another commonly known opuntia cactus is the opuntia microdasys. The opuntia microdasys most common nickname is “bunny ears.” This opuntia variation grows up to six feet in height. It also can be natively found in Mexico through desert land as north into Arizona.
This opuntia cactus needs full sun and cannot stand harsh winters that get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the pads of this plant, you will find what are called “glochids.” Glochids appear to be fuzzy, but they are actually rather sharp. Glochids are yellow in color and consist of many pricks that are sure to stick your finger if you are not wearing gloves. Opuntia microdasys are known to bloom gorgeous, cup-shaped, yellow flowers.
How Do You Care for Opuntia?
All succulents require very little maintenance in order to thrive. The opuntia cactus is the same way. If you stick to three simple guidelines in opuntia cactus care, you are sure to watch your prickly pear cactus grow happily.
Here are some things to remember:
- Watering: Water every seven to 10 days. Use your plastic water dropper at the stem of the plant. When you fill-up the dropper completely, give the dropper a full squeeze. Repeat this method two to four times.
- Light and temperature: Your plant can thrive in indirect, bright light. It can also thrive in direct sunlight. Remember to keep your plants at a temperature between 60 and 90 degrees for optimal care.
- Repotting: Repotting is simple. Just moisten the sand, pebble, or soil that your plant is planted in. Remove your plant carefully, minding the roots. Repot your plant or put it right in the ground. Make sure the pot or hole in the ground is bigger than the plant itself, giving it ample room to expand in size.
If you follow these simple steps, your opuntia cactus is going to thrive with ease!
Some additional tips and tricks to grow your opuntia include:
- Put your opuntia in full sun. It will grow wonderfully in bright light, but the full sun has been shown to be the best option.
- Sand appears to be the best place for opuntia cactus to grow. Regardless of soil type, make sure your opuntia has excellent drainage.
- In the winter months, give your opuntia partial sun conditions and very little water.
Sticking to these suggestions will allow your opuntia to grow to great heights. It will be a beautiful piece in your garden or in your home!
Bring Home Your Opuntia Today
The opuntia cactus is full of character. Its shape is unlike any other succulent. From its fun background to its sweet fruit, the prickly pear is going to be a must-have in your succulent garden.
The colors, flowers, and features are vibrant and brilliant. It can endure the harsh heat and survive through the winter with the proper care. You are going to want to add an opuntia to your collection today. It’s too special to pass up on!
Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa (Raf.) Raf.) | U.S. Forest Service
Opuntia microdasys (Angel's-Wings, Bunny Ears, Polka Dot Cactus) | North Carolina State University
Opuntia ficus-indica (Sweet Prickly Pear) | BioNET-EAFRINET