Ozarks Cool Plants: Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus, surrounded by False Garlic at the Sac River Trail in March 2012.

Prickly Pear Cactus, surrounded by False Garlic at the Sac River Trail in March 2012

We always think of cactus as growing in the desert of the American West. So it’s sometimes a shock for people to find these fairly large cacti growing happily in the Ozarks. We have lots of rain here, and we have hard winters!

Well to be fair, the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is limited to glade areas that do get very hot and dry during our torrid summers. You’re not going to find them growing in a moist woodland. But they’re quite winter hardy and do a fine job of surviving in a rather hostile environment. In fact, much flora and fauna of the glades are more reminiscent of the deserts. If you’re lucky you will see collared lizards, scorpions, tarantulas, and roadrunners.

These cacti do produce a flower in the summer, quite a showy one at that (typical of the Opuntia genus). And that’s followed by an edible fruit. I’ve not tried them, though. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

The cactus pads are typically about 5″x3″, give or take, and glow in a clump just like in this picture. If you’re lucky enough to see them, take a look in the area around the cactus and see what else grows in the same habitat. I find that sort of thing fascinating.

I took this picture on a glade on the Sac River Trail, but I’ve seen cactus at hundreds of locations all over the Ozarks.


9 thoughts on “Ozarks Cool Plants: Prickly Pear Cactus

  1. Nan Taylor

    Thank you for this information. We took a hike today at Pilot Knob (near Carr Lane), a Missouri Conservation trail and saw this cacti in two spots. We were surprised – wondered if it was native to the area because it was predominately a wooded area. There was rock around this area – so must be a dry, hot place most of the time.

    1. Gary

      There are large areas covered with these on the saddle of the ridge on the yellow and Silver trails at Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area. When we were there a couple of weeks ago they were looking a bit sad and withered, so I didn’t take any pictures..

      We’ve got some pictures of them flowering. I’ll have to add the pictures to this post.

  2. Brigitte

    I was delighted to find a small cluster on a steep rocky incline overlooking the lake in Warsaw. I’m so glad it wasn’t accidentally weed whacked.

    1. Gary

      Excellent! I am so used to thinking of cacti as exotic plants, that I still get excited when I see them in the wild. (I’m easily pleased!)

  3. Pingback: Short hike at Busiek - Ozarks Walkabout

  4. Rex W Berry

    They grow in the wooded areas as well. My parents property is covered with them, and it is all woods. It is quite rocky though, and the soil is red clay.

  5. Michael Finn

    I transplanted a few prickly pears from a house near Stockton Lake. I planted them in potting soil in the front of my house by the shrubs. They have flourished. That was 3 years ago. They are the healthiest prickly pears I’ve ever seen. This will be the first year that they flower.


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