Engelmann, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 3: 298, 1856
What is Opuntia rufida?
Opuntia rufida is a large, spineless prickly pear cactus that occurs in the Big Bend area of Texas and south into the greater Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico.
O. rufida is a much-branched cactus that may reach 1 to 1.5 m and a bit wider. The plant generally has a short trunk, and pads are subcircular, obovate, or elliptical, 8 to 25 cm across. The pads are thickish and tomentose. Areoles spineless but are conspicuous with tufts or red-brown glochids.
The flowers are yellow to orange and 4 to 5 cm long including the ovary. The filaments are greenish-white and the style is 1.5 cm long and bulbous above the base. The fruit of this Opuntia is bright red, umbilicate, and globular.
O. rufida is diploid.
Britton and Rose reported that this species is less common than, and is sometimes confused with, O. microdaysys, another spineless prickly pear sympatric with O. rufida in Mexico. However, the glochids of O. microdasys are generally pale. Also, unlike O. microdasys, O. rufida has reniform to circular cladodes. Moreover, O. microdasys is typically a shorter plant.
Though the flowers of this Opuntia are not especially memorable, O. rufida is statuesque and unique in appearance. It would be a spectacular garden plant except for the profusion of glochids. This prickly pear sheds its glochids with abandon and they are a menace to any gardener. Whether true or not its glochids have the reputation of detaching and flying on the wind. Flying glochids are purported to blind animals, hence the name, blind prickly pear.