Opuntia dulcis

Engelmann, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 3: 291, 1856

Lectotype; Herbarium


Opuntia dulcis has been described as a variety of O. phaeacantha. However, throughout their overlapping ranges the two species are differentiable. O. dulcis is a larger plant with ascending branches, to 2 ft. Sometimes the major branches of O. dulcis may be prostrate with side branches rising to 2 ft. Immature specimens of O. dulcis may overlap in size with O. phaeacantha plants. O. dulcis resembles O. engelmannii in some ways but does not become as erect or large as that species can. The spines may be in the same arrangement as O. engelmannii, but are more slender. See the original citationO. dulcis is hexaploid.

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An early account of O. dulcis describes the fruit as sweet (hence dulcis). O. dulcis has continuously been confused with O. engelmannii, O. phaeacantha, and O. gilvescens. In fact, O. dulcis is sympatric with these species. The inner tepals are more or less strawberry-red at their bases, but the red may be pale. There are often 2 to 4 chalk-white spines per areole. The spines are typically not as stout as those of O. engelmannii, but are not weak. O. dulcis plants from areas with cold winters (e.g., Santa Fe, NM) are no doubt hardy to -20F or lower.

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