Opuntia covillei

Opuntia covillei
Opuntia covillei

Britton and Rose, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 50: 532, 1908

Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Photograph (Britton and Rose, 1919); PaintingDrawing (JJ Thornber; The Fantastic Clan of the Cactus Family)

Original Description

What is O. covillei?

Opuntia covillei is a medium-sized, California prickly pear cactus that grows in angular shapes to 1 m across. The species is often found growing in impenetrable thickets made of plants 50-100 cm tall. 


O. covillei cladodes are pale green and 9 to 20(25) cm long, and the areoles are 2-4 cm apart. Most areoles have 2-5(7) white-brown or brown spines. Spines are slender, and the longest spine may be 5-7 cm long. Spines are brownish or white-brown. This Opuntia is notable for its overall spiny appearance.  

The bright yellow flowers are large for a prickly pear of this size. Though yellow, the flowers my be tinged with green inside. The anthers are yellow, the style is pale, and the stigma is green. The ovary on this Opuntia is 4 to 5 cm long with relatively few areoles that are mostly spineless. However, some fruits may have a few short spines.  The fruit is mildly tuberculate, relatively long, and red. Seeds are about 5 mm in diameter. 

Ploidy is unknown.

Other Details

Unlike many California opuntias, O. covillei grows in inland valleys, and it is not restricted to the coastal areas. It grows at the base of Mt. San Bernardino, Mt. Baldy, Mt. San Gorgonio, and into the desert foothills near Banning. O. covillei may be synonymous with O. megacarpa, which was described around the same time. However, the name, O. covillei, has precedence. 

Like many Opuntia species of California, O. covillei is typically misidentified or even considered to be a hybrid of some sort. 

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