Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis
Opuntia fragilis

(Nutt.) Haworth, Synopsis plantarum succulentarum 82, 1819

Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Herbarium; Painting

What is Opuntia fragilis?

Opuntia fragilis is one of the smallest opuntias in the United States. It is found throughout the Mountain West and the northern Midwest, and it is very cold hardy.


Dr. Eric Ribbens writes:

Opuntia fragilis (Nutt.) Haw. is a small, cold-hardy prickly pear. It has pads 1 to 3 cm long and longer than wide, and spines can be longer than the pad, or short.

This Opuntia forms a sprawling prostrate mat up to 30 cm in diameter; rarely are there erect chains of more than 2 or 3 pads. The cladodes of this Opuntia are remarkable because they are ‘fragile’. They separate easily–sometimes with just a touch.

Flowers are large and yellow, with creamy greenish to reddish centers. Older plants often develop a thick rootstock at the base of the plant. Large plants can be comprised of hundreds of pads on numerous flat chains. The pads are often rather rounded instead of flat, and that it does not ever set fruit in the Midwest.”

Britton and Rose reported that O. fragilis is seldom in flower and even less often in fruit. See the original citation. O. fragilis is hexaploid. 

For more information about the taxonomy, appearance, geographic distribution, and ecology of O. fragilis see the following resources.


Permission to reproduce some materials for this page through the courtesy of  the Cactus and Succulent Society of America and Dr. Ribbens. The journal articles are copyrighted and may not be reproduced elsewhere.

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