Growing Opuntia Humifusa Plants: How To Care For Eastern Prickly Pear


Opuntia Humifusa [op-UN-tee-a, hum-ih-FEW-suh] is a succulent, clump-forming shrub from the family Cactaceae.

Native to many parts of eastern North America, the plant also has some other scientific names.

Blooming Eastern Prickly Pear Opuntia Humifusa

These include:

  • Opuntia mesacantha
  • Opuntia italic
  • Opuntia fuscoatra
  • Opuntia rafinesquei
  • Opuntia calcicola
  • Opuntia compressa
  • Opuntia cumulicola

However, it is generally known with the following common names:

It is the most widespread of all cacti species in the United States.

Opuntia Humifusa Care

Size & Growth

This clump-forming cactus species is a low-growing perennial, typically growing up to 6” – 12” inches tall and 12” – 18” inches wide.

Like most other species of its genus, Opuntia, the plant features round-to-oval, flattened, and fleshy stems or pads.

The pads are green with a purple tinge and are covered with tiny reddish-brown pointed bristles, called glochids, and hair-like spines.

Flowering and Fragrance

Eastern prickly pear produces striking bright yellow flowers in late spring to early summer – from May to July – at the ends of the green pads.

The flowers are large and waxy and have bushy clumps of yellow stamens in the center.

They sometimes also feature a red center.

Flowering is followed by the production of bright red fruits, which remain on the plant until the following spring.

Light & Temperature

The plant thrives in full sun, but can tolerate partial shade and even harsh winters.

The plant contains unique antifreeze chemicals in its cells, which makes it frost hardy.

The plant is hardy to USDA hardiness zones 4b to 10b.

Watering and Feeding

Just like all other species of the cactus family, opuntia humifusa requires a low amount of water and becomes highly drought tolerant, once established.

Make sure to not overwater the plant because it prefers dry soil.

Let the soil dry out between waterings in winter because if the roots will rot if they remain wet in winters.

Eastern prickly pear cactus does not need fertilizer when it is planted outdoors.

However, it may need to be fed with a well-balanced fertilizer when grown indoors.

If the color of your indoor plant is turning from bright green to pale green and it doesn’t flower, it means your plant needs fertilizer.

Soil & Transplanting

While the plant prefers sandy or gravelly soil, it can easily tolerate almost any type of soil as long as it is well-draining.

When repotting, let the soil get completely dry before taking out the plant.

Throw away the old soil and treat the cuts with a fungicide before planting it in the new pot.

Do not water the plant for a few days after repotting to avoid the risk of root rot.

Grooming and Maintenance

Opuntia humifusa is an easy-to-grow and very low maintenance plant.

More Opuntia of Interest

How To Propagate Eastern Prickly Pear

Eastern prickly pear is propagated from both seeds and plant cuttings.

However, starting new plants from plant cuttings or pads is faster and easier than growing a plant from seeds.

For collecting seeds, choose the mature fruits which are reddish-brown in color.

Let the seeds air dry for a few hours.

While the seeds could be stored, it is best to sow them in the ground, immediately after collection.

The seeds take a long time to germinate – in most cases, seedlings do not emerge until the next spring.

For propagating through cuttings, all you have to do is to break off a pad from the joint, let it dry (until its wounds heal), and simply stick in the prepared ground and it will form roots quite quickly.

Make sure the soil is dry and just like with transplanting, do not water the new cuttings until they begin to grow; watering before it can cause root rot.

Eastern Prickly Pear Pest or Diseases

The bright yellow flowers of devil’s tongue attract many pollinator species.

However, it generally remains disease-free and is also deer resistant.

Opuntia Humifusa Uses

The plant is mainly grown for ornamental purposes as it adds color and texture to your garden.

It is a popular choice for desert gardens, Mediterranean gardens, rock gardens, xeriscape gardens, and sandy slopes.

The fruits of the eastern prickly pear plant are edible and are often used to make jams and candies.

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