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. 

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