Opuntia pyrocarpa

Opuntia pyrocarpa
Opuntia pyrocarpa

Griffiths, Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 43(2): 90, 1916

Isotype; Isotype; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium (O. griffithsiana); Herbarium (O. griffithsiana); Herbarium (O. reflexa); Herbarium (O. convexa); Painting; Painting (O. convexa)

What is Opuntia pyrocarpa?

Opuntia pyrocarpa is a commonly encountered prickly pear cactus in central and north-central Texas where it often grows in deep, limestone-derived soils. It is found into Mexico and perhaps Oklahoma. 


O. pyrocarpa is an ascending spreading plant to 1 m tall. Often the main branches of this prickly pear cactus are prostrate but ascend at the ends. The cladodes are large, approximately 25(30) to 15(20) cm, or they may be smaller in some plants. The cladodes are often constricted at the base to form a short neck. The spines are porrect in new cladodes, but often slope down with age. Spines are present on the upper 50% to 60% of the areoles and are yellow darkening to a brown base. Spines are 2 to 3 cm long.

The flowers are yellow with light-red centers or pure yellow. This Opuntia has a white style tipped with a light-green stigma. The petals are irregularly cleft or even nearly bifurcated. The fruit is long, pyriform, and various shades of carmine, often with a purplish tinge outside and inside.

O. pyrocarpa may form large plants that create piles of cladodes spread over 6-8 feet, making up for lack of height by achieving breadth. Or prostrate ascending branches by reach upwards. Several large plants growing together can create a formidable thicket. The species occurs with others found in Texas such as O. lindheimeri, O. macrorhiza, and O. orbiculata, etc.  The type location is Marble Falls, TX. See the original description

Opuntia mackensenii

Opuntia mackensenii
Opuntia mackensenii

Rose, Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium 13: 310, 1911

Holotype; Isotype; Isotype; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium (as O. roseana); Herbarium (as O. roseana); Painting; Photograph; Photograph

What is Opuntia mackensenii?

Opuntia mackensenii is a prickly pear cactus found in northern Texas and adjacent areas. Many specimens have tuberous roots. It can be mistaken as a form of O. macrorhiza or even O. phaeacantha


O. mackensenii is clearly described by Powell and Weedin (2004). They also described O. mackensenii var. minor. O. mackensenii is a prostrate plant to 1 m across. It may have ascending branches. Plants are up to 30 cm tall if branches ascend. Cladodes are subcircular or obovate, 8-16(20) cm in diameter. One to four spines are present in upper areoles. Plants may have pale spines but commonly have spines grading to black at the base. Sometimes spines are distinctly black and white. 

Flowers are medium sized and yellow. Fruit is spineless and oval or sometimes narrower with/without a contracted base, 4-5(6) cm long, truncate at apex, with nearly colorless and pleasant-tasting pulp. The seeds are orbicular or suborbicular, 5-6 mm in diameter, nearly white, and with acute margins. 

O. mackensenii is similar to O. phaeacantha, but the latter taxon is hexaploid. O. mackensenii was renamed O. edwardsii by researchers. However, their type specimen was incorrect, and the name fell by the wayside. Pads are greener and softer looking than those of O. phaeacantha, and the fruit is richer in color (most often redder). It is commonly found over the northern half of Texas and reaches into Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It is often confused with O. macrorhiza especially because field guides do not have a slot for it.

See the original citation. O. mackensenii is tetraploid as is as var minor.

Opuntia lindheimeri subarmata

Opuntia lindheimeri subarmata
Opuntia lindheimeri subaramata

(Griffiths) Elizondo & Wehbe, Cactaceas y Suculentas Mexicanas 32: 17, 1987

Holotype; Isotype; Isotype; HerbariumHerbarium; Painting; Painting

See the entry for O. lindheimeri.

What is Opuntia lindheimeri subaramata?

Opuntia lindheimeri subaramata is a prickly pear cactus that was described as a stand-alone taxon (O. subaramata) by Griffiths.  It is the same cactus as O. engelmannii subaramata described by Weinger (Cacti of Texas, 1988). 


The cladodes are fleshier, thicker, “heavier seeming” and “denser appearing” than the cladodes of typical O. lindheimeri. This Opuntia makes thicker shrubs than the parent taxon. The plants may be shorter than the parent variety, but they can get large. The few spines are yellow and may be flat. They may grade to true dark brown without red (even nearly black) at the base, a characteristic that is unusual for O. lindheimeriO. lindheimeri subaramata areoles may have few glochids or may have many glochids. 

The flowers are essentially like those of O. lindheimeri, as are the fruit and seeds. 

O. lindheimeri subaramata intergrades with regular O. lindheimeri, but it is a distinct prickly pear that occurs mostly at the western limits of the O. lindheimeri range. The authors have observed this Opuntia near Amistad National Recreation Area near Eagle Pass, TX; near Del Rio, TX; in the McKittrick hills west of Carlsbad, NM; and on the Edwards Plateau of Texas. It may occur north to the Lubbock, TX area. See the original citation (Spanish). O. lindheimeri subaramata may be hexaploid like the parent taxon, but at least one report suggests that it is tetraploid. 

Opuntia leptocarpa

Mackensen, Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 38: 141, 1911

Holotype; IsotypeIsotype; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; HerbariumHerbarium; HerbariumPainting (Britton and Rose, v1 1919, plate XXVIII, No. 1 and 2, left); Photograph

What is Opuntia leptocarpa?

Opuntia leptocarpa is a prickly pear cactus that grows in east-central and central TX, and perhaps farther west and south. It grows with O. macrorhiza and O. lindheimeri. Plants are not numerous in most locations.


Stems are ascending, typically less than 30(50) cm. Pads are thin and oval, obovate, or elliptic, 10 to 20(25) cm long. Spines may be tan (or cream-yellow) darkening to brown or red-brown at the base, 20-30 mm long. Older cladodes may lack spines altogether.

Flower buds are thin and have rust-colored glochids. Anthers are yellow and filaments are yellow-white or white. The stigmas are pale white, yellow, or green. Tepals are gold-yellow or canary yellow. Inner tepals typically have at least a small amount of reddish pigment at their bases. As the name implies, the pericarp and the fruit may be long and slender. 

Some botanists suggest this taxon is same as O. pyrocarpa, but it seems to form smaller plants. Britton and Rose described O. leptocarpa as a possible hybrid of O. macrorhiza and O. lindheimeri. “See the original description.

Opuntia cacanapa (incl O. ellisiana)

Opuntia cacanapa
Opuntia cacanapa

Griffiths & Hare, New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin (New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts) 60: 47, 1906

IsotypeNeotypeHolotype (O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’); Isotype (O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’); Herbarium (O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’)

O. alta is another arborescent Opuntia

What is Opuntia cacanapa?

Opuntia cacanapa is a large prickly pear cactus that occurs in Brewster County, TX and southeast to the Gulf Coast as well as in adjacent Mexico. It may also occur inland on the South Texas Plains where it is sympatric with other Opuntia species.


O. cacanapa can reach 2-2.5 m tall. The largest branches/trunk may be 16 cm in diameter. O. cacanapa forms a large, open, branching prickly pear with blue-green and glaucous cladodes. The cladodes are up to 20 cm in longest diameter and are suborbicular, oval, or obovate. The 4-5 cm long spines of this Opuntia are yellow and sometimes brown or reddish-brown at the base. Spines may curve out from the areoles. Some plants may lack spines in most areoles. The stigma of the yellow flowers is pale, yellowish-green, or pale green. The leaves are  strongly recurved, more so than in most Opuntia species. O. alta has recurved leaves, but they don’t curl back as strongly. 

O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ is garden variant of O. cacanapa that has no spines and essentially no glochids. O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ may seem different from the parent Opuntia. However, O. cacanapa and O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ share key features that demonstrate their relatedness: 1) strongly recurved leaves on cladodes and flowers, 2) pale stigmas with white styles, 3) white filaments with yellow anthers, 4) general shape and size of the fruits, 5) obovate or subcircular cladodes, 6) identical bloom periods, and 7) shrubby or arborescent growth. 

Lack of spines is a feature of some Opuntia species and is not unknown. However, lack of glochids is a very unusual condition in any prickly pear.

See the original description. O. cacanapa is diploid.

O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ is cold hardy to about zero F, and without spines or glochids, it is a wonderful garden plant. It is not fast growing and can be kept small by pruning. 

Read more below thumbnails.


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Opuntia lindheimeri (incl ‘linguiformis’)

Opuntia lindheimeri
Opuntia lindheimeri

Engelmann, Boston Journal of Natural History 6: 207, 1850

Holotype (as O. lehmannii); Holotype (as O. lehmannii); Neotype; Isotype (as O. texana); Herbarium; Herbarium; HerbariumHerbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium (seeds); Herbarium (as O. texana); Herbarium (as O. texana); Herbarium (as O. subaramata); Herbarium (‘linguiformis’); Herbarium (‘linguiformis’); Painting (Britton and Rose, v1 1919, plate XXXI); Painting (Britton and Rose, v 1 1919, plate XXX, linguiformis); Herbarium (as O. ferruginispina); Painting (O. ferruginispina); Painting; Painting; Painting; Painting; Painting (‘linguiformis’); Painting

See checklist of differences between O. lindheimeri and O. engelmannii.

Also see O. lindheimeri subaramata.

What is Opuntia lindheimeri?

Opuntia lindheimeri is a large, widespread prickly pear cactus extending from eastern-central Texas to the Pecos River in West Texas. In the south it is found all the way to the Rio Grand River and into Mexico. In the north it extends into Oklahoma. 


From Powell and Weedin: 

This prickly pear forms large sprawling shrubs 0.5-1.2(3) m tall, with obovate or orbiculate cladodes 15-27(30) cm × 12-22(30) cm wide and 1.5-2 cm thick. There are (0)1-5(8) clear yellow spines per areole with reddish brown bases. Largest spines are (3)4-6(7.5) cm long. Typically the spines are not arranged in a bird’s foot pattern as in O. engelmannii, and there are often one or more spines that are porrect or deflexed (see checklist of differences between O. lindheimeri and O. engelmannii). Seedlings are hairy. 

Flowers are brilliant yellow, but they turn orange or reddish over time. However, in South Texas flowers may have shades of orange. The flowers are 5-8 cm long and 5-7.5(10) cm across. Filaments (1.5 cm long) and anthers are cream-colored. The style is greenish-yellow to white or cream, 1.7 to 2 cm long with a bulbous base. The stigma is typically dark green. The pericarpel is 4-6 cm long and 2-2.5 cm wide. Fruits are purple to reddish-purple, often pyriform, 3-7 cm long, 2.5-3(4) cm in diameter, spineless, and with a shallow umbilicus. The fruit pulp and juice are beet-red and very juicy. The fruit is reported to be sweet, but not always so in our experience. Seeds are tan, irregularly discoid and small, 3-4 mm in diameter by 1 mm thick, with a narrow aril. 

Britton and Rose also considered that O. lindheimeri is a stand-alone species. The point is not settled, and other botanists accept O. lindheimeri as a variety of O. engelmannii. Both have yellow flowers with green stigmas. Whatever their taxonomic relationship, the plants are easily distinguished when grown side-by-side and  do not generally overlap in their natural ranges. O. lindheimeri is a plant of deeper soils and more mesic conditions (central and eastern TX), whereas O. engelmannii is a true desert plant of rocky or shallow soils (western TX and the western deserts). O. lindheimeri occurs west of the Pecos River, but it is uncommon. We accept O. lindheimeri linguiformis (‘Cow’s Tongue’ cactus) as a garden form of O. lindheimeri and not a variety. Powell and Weedin, (2004) also described ‘Cow’s Tongue’ cactus as a cultivar (‘linguiformis’), but placed it in O. engelmannii

The relatedness O. lindheimeri with O. engelmannii is clear. Powell and Weedin report an assemblage of names that may were applied to O. lindheimeri at one time or another. Almost any large Opuntia in TX, NM, or AZ has probably been misidentified or misunderstood over the years, and O. lindheimeri is no exception.

See the original description. Like O. engelmannii, O. lindheimeri is hexaploid.

Opuntia bentonii

Opuntia bentonii
Opuntia bentonii

Griffiths, Annual Report of the Missouri Botanical Garden 22: 25, 1911

Holotype; Isotype; Isotype; Isotype; Isotype; Isotype; HerbariumDrawing (seed)

O. bentonii is different from O. anahuacensis, but they are both beach prickly pears.

O. bentonii is different from O. stricta, but they are both beach prickly pears.

What is Opuntia bentonii?

Opuntia bentonii is a prickly pear cactus that resembles small O. lindheimeri plants at first glance, but there are sustained differences between the two opuntias.


O. bentonii is an open, erect prickly pear. The plants are generally under 35 cm tall. Mature O. bentonii cladodes are about 16 cm wide by 27 cm long and obovate (sometimes oval). There may be 1-3(5) spines in upper areoles, yellow and translucent. Spines may be erect or recurved and up to 2.5 cm long. Veins are visible between areoles and the areoles are raised. The recurved leaves are about 5 mm long. Flowers are large, up to 9-10 cm in diameter. The style is greenish white and the stigma is yellowish green or yellow (not green). Fruit is obovate-pyriform and the umbilicus is flattish–slightly raised or slightly depressed. 

O. bentonii prickly pears are distinct from O. lindheimeri in several ways. Whereas the former Opuntia is typically 35 cm tall or less and remains so in cultivation, O. lindheimeri can become a large plant (1-1.5 m tall and broad). The stigmas of O. bentonii are yellow or yellow-green in contrast to the decidedly green stigmas of O. lindheimeri. The seeds of O. bentonii are larger than those of O. lindheimeri (about 40% larger in diameter).

O. bentonii often grows with O. anahuacensis, but the two plants, while both low and with yellow spines, are quite different. O. anahuacensis has fewer spines and tends to grow semi-horizontally. O. anahuacensis is an Opuntia that can form large and tangled thickets, whereas O. bentonii prickly pear plants stand upright (not horizontal ascending) even though there may be multiple plants growing together. O. bentonii has obovate or elliptical cladodes, whereas the oval or obovate pads of O. anahuacensis have a short neck. The areoles of O. bentonii are often raised, giving pads a dimpled look. 

We have observed O. bentonii on Galveston Island, TX, Bolivar Peninsula, TX, and Sea Rim State Park near Port Arthur, TX. This Opuntia is also reported from southwest LA. Perhaps this prickly pear grows on the Gulf Coast in the many secluded areas of southeast TX. We have not found this prickly pear away from salt water. See the original citation.

O. bentonii has bright yellow flowers and is a good garden plant in USDA zone 9. Its ultimate cold tolerance is unknown. O. bentonii has some features in common with O. tunoidea of the South Carolina coast. If the two taxa are the same, the correct name for both is O. tunoidea. More study is needed.

Opuntia azurea

Opuntia azurea
Opuntia azurea

Rose, Contributions from the U.S. National Herbarium 12(7): 291, 1909

HolotypeIsotype; Isotype; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; HerbariumHerbarium (O. azurea diplopurpurea); Holotype; (O. azurea diplopurpurea); Holotype (O. azurea discolor); Herbarium (O. azurea discolor); Herbarium (O. azurea parva); Herbarium (O. azurea parva); Herbarium (O. azurea parva); Herbarium (O. azurea parva); Painting (possible O. azurea)

See O. chisosensis

See O. macrocentra

What is Opuntia azurea?

Opuntia azurea is an attractive prickly pear cactus from the Big Bend Region of Texas that is related to O. macrocentra. A full technical description of this Opuntia appears on page 130 of The Cacti of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas (Powell and Weedin, 2004). 


The cladodes are glaucous blue-green, and areoles are 1.2 to 1.6 cm apart. When mature, spines are black, unequal, and up to 2.5 cm long. Flowers are yellow with red centers, essentially identical to those of O. macrocentra. Stigmas are pale green. This Opuntia is a wide-ranging (into Mexico) and variable species. The Flora of North America does not recognize this taxon. 

Powell and Weedin described five varieties of O. azurea.

  • aureispina
  • azurea
  • discolor
  • diplopurpurea A.M. Powell & J.F. Weedin
  • parva A.M. Powell & J.F. Weedin

We include a sixth possible variety of this prickly pear that is undescribed. We provisionally refer to it as O. azurea casteretti. Perhaps it is only a white-spined version of another Opuntia variety, O. azurea diplopurpurea. Powell and Weedin considered these white-spined plants to be variants of O. macrocentra and nothing more. See the original description. O. azurea is tetraploid or hexaploid depending upon the report. Perhaps (not sure) polidy varies with variety. 

Depending upon the variety, the plant may be purple at the cladode base or may turn entirely purple in winter. Spines may be slender or robust. Also varieties are differentiated by height with some 1 m or taller and others less than 1 m. Additionally, cladode size may differentiate varieties.



Opuntia atrispina

Opuntia atrispina
Opuntia atrispina

Griffiths, Annual Report Missouri Botanical Garden 21: 172, 1910

Holotype, Isotype, Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; HerbariumHerbarium; Drawing (Britton and Rose, v1 1919, plate XXV, top right)

What is Opuntia atrispina?

Opuntia atrispina is an early flowering, attractive prickly pear cactus from Texas and adjacent Mexico.


Plants may be 70 cm tall, but more normally they are 30 cm or less. They may spread to 1 m but are usually about half that wide. Cladodes on this cactus are green and 10-15 cm wide by 10-20 cm long and egg shaped, obovate, or circular. The plants are densely branched. The round spines of this Opuntia are unique because they are a distinctive rich dark red-brown, dark-brown, or even jet black black at their bases and light tan or yellow on their distal portions. The transition is abrupt and this two-tone coloring provides a and attractive and distinctive look.

Fully opened flowers are 4-5 cm across. Filaments are yellowish distally and greenish proximally. The style is white. Stigmas are yellow, greenish-yellow, or even cream-colored. The flowers are also distinctive because they open cream-colored or white-yellow and change to salmon, pink, red, or even tan-pink.  Moreover, newly opened flowers can have a hint of green in the center. 

The distribution of this prickly pear is limited in the United States, extending from the Uvalde, TX-area to near Del Rio and Langtry, TX. Briton and Rose reported that this Opuntia can be over up to 1 m tall and up to 1.3 m wide. But, these large plants are seldom seen today. See the original citation. O. atrispina is diploid. 

Single  plants wear flowers of three or more cheerful colors making this Opuntia a good garden plant. Ultimate hardiness is unknown, but perhaps it is hardy to zero F. 

Opuntia anahuacensis

Opuntia anahuacensis
Opuntia anahuacensis

Griffiths, Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 43(2): 92, 1916

Holotype; Isotype; Painting (Smithsonian Institution); Painting; Painting  (Smithsonian Institution)  NOTE: the holotype specimen is notable because it contains two different cladode types. Only the cladode on the left conforms with the original description of this Opuntia and plants found near the type locality. Also, the cladode on the left agrees with the isotype specimen. Therefore, we accept the pad on the left as the correct holotype. The pad on the right is unidentified but may be O. magenta or O. gomei, more southerly species.

O. anahuacensis is different from O. stricta, but they are both beach Opuntias.

O. anahuacensis is different from O. bentonii, but they are both beach Opuntias.

What is Opuntia anahuacensis?

Opuntia anahuacensis is a prickly pear cactus of sandy soils associated with the Gulf of Mexico, and this has earned it the name beach prickly pear or beach Opuntia. The plants are 30-50 cm tall, but they form large horizontal thickets up to 2 m across. Groupings of this Opuntia can form impenetrable thickets many meters across.


The cladodes are about 10-15 cm wide and up to 25 cm long; they are obovate with suggestions of a neck. Some elliptical cladodes are reminiscent of elongate ping-pong paddles because of their neck. Pads of this prickly pear can have multiple spines or essentially no spines. But, there is usually no more than 1-2 major spines per areole on this Opuntia. If there is a spine, it is porrect. If there is a second spine, it is deflexed. The flower buds are generally long and tapered. The stigma is white. Fruit is pyriform, up to 5-7 cm long and sometimes deeply pitted. O. anahuacensis co-occurs with O. bentonii but that latter species is decidedly more spiny and has yellow stigmas. 

We found this Opuntia in sandy areas on Galveston Island, Texas and several locations on Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. It is anecdotally reported from Anahuac, TX. Another report places the plant in southwestern Louisiana. Additionally, isolated populations of this prickly pear have been found as much as 60 km inland growing in deep, sandy soils along waterways. O. anahuacensis may occur along the many secluded miles of the south Texas Gulf Coast, but this is not documented by us. Overall then, it could be widespread. 

O. anahuacensis is not commonly noticed as a distinct Opuntia species, and it seems unrecognized by many Texas botanists. O. anahuacensis may have been mistaken for O. stricta, which was reported along the upper Texas Gulf Coast. However, the two opuntias are different, and we have never observed O. stricta in Texas. Perhaps a sighting of O. anahuacensis was misreported as O. stricta. See the original citation. O. anahuacensis is hexaploid.

Though it is associated with the beach areas, this prickly pear does well in gardens where it can form a large plant. It may be cold-hardy to the middle of USDA hardiness zone 8.