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. 

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