Opuntia basilaris

Opuntia basilaris ramosa
Opuntia basilaris ramosa

Engelmann & Bigelow, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 3: 298, 1856


Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; HerbariumHolotype (O. basilaris brachyclada); Herbarium (O.  basilaris brachyclada); Herbarium (O. basilaris brachyclada); Herbarium (O. basilaris brachyclada); Herbarium (O. basilaris longiareolata); Herbarium (O. basilaris longiareolataHerbarium (O. basilaris longiareolata); Herbarium (O. basilaris longiareolata); Isolectotype (O. basilaris ramosa); Herbarium (O. basilaris heilii)

What is Opuntia basilaris?

Opuntia basilaris is a distinctive prickly pear cactus; it has the archetypical “beaver tail” cactus look. The cladodes form dense clumps 15 to 25 cm tall and 25(130) cm across. Therefore, this small plant is typically the right size for a garden. The pads are blue-green and roundish or wedge shaped and 12-17(22) cm long.


Often the cladodes of this prickly pear are fan shaped, but they may be oval, obovate or even elongate-obovate. The pads of the major variety of this Opuntia (var basilaris) arise from a single point and form an approximate rosette. The areoles are slightly sunken. This prickly pear has blue-green or gray-green pads that are distinctive and that may have hints of purple, or they may be entirely purple under stress. Though spineless, there are numerous small glochids that, once embedded, are seemingly impossible to remove from skin. Flowers are magenta. 

Native Americans used O. basilaris as a medicinal plant (Anderson, 2001). Perhaps there was some beneficial effect to ingesting the cactus because it contains 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine, a compound related to dopamine and mescaline. 

Britton and Rose discuss several varieties that are not recognized here including: albiflora, coerulea, and nanna.

There are at least 5 described varieties of this Opuntia that we recognize:

  • basilaris
  • brachyclada
  • longiareolata
  • ramosa
  • treleasei

All varieties of this  prickly pear are spineless except var treleasei. O. basilaris basilaris is by far the most commonly encountered variety. Read the original original description of this Opuntia. O. basilaris is diploid, but O. basilaris treleasii is triploid and may represent a separate taxon.

O. basilaris is a favorite in gardens because of its unique shape, pad colors, and flowers. 

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