By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Opuntia are one of the largest genus of cactus. They are widespread and found in a variety of environments; however, their biggest concentration is in the desert tropical Americas. The best known of the Opuntia is the prickly pear, but its cousin the tulip prickly pear is also notable. What is a tulip prickly pear? This cactus is also known as brown spined prickly pear for its pronounced rust to reddish brown spines. If you live in warm, arid regions, learn how to grow brown spined prickly pear and add its unique flowers and medium stature to your desert garden.
What is a Tulip Prickly Pear?
Opuntia phaecantha is a medium sized cactus. It matures to a shrub-like mounding form that may be 5 feet tall by 15 feet wide (1.52 by 4.57 m.). The stems or joints attach to pads and can create quite a thicket over time. The spines are both persistent and thicker – short-term glochids set in areoles.
Joints are bluish-green but can develop a reddish tinge in cool weather. The bright, showy flowers develop into fruits called “tunas.” These are red to purple and as long as an index finger with juicy, sweet pulp.
One of the more important aspects of tulip prickly pear info is its preference for sun, alkaline soil and warm ambient temperatures. However, the plant can withstand occasional freezes.
Tulip Prickly Pear Care
Like other prickly pears, growing brown spined prickly pears is easy. This prickly pear is adapted to United States Department of Agriculture zone 7 and up. These Opuntia are found growing widely in the Gobi Desert. They like to be quite hot and dry, and thrive when precipitation is infrequent. That is because they store moisture in their thick pads.
The plants also have waxy skin that prevents evaporation and spines that help conserve moisture. The cells of the plant also contain more photosynthetic material, called chloroplasts, than leafed plants. This characteristic makes them uniquely adapted to long days of sun, which is converted into plant sugars.
Brown spined prickly pear can also grow as far north as Nebraska, Montana and Colorado. This is an easy-to-care-for plant and only a few tips on how to grow brown spined prickly pear are necessary for success in these regions.
The plant thrives in full to partial sun, in well-drained soil. Boggy or slow draining soil is the Opuntia’s Achilles heel and can cause rot and even death in the plant. Site it where there will be no collecting water and the plant receives plenty of sunshine throughout the day, at least 6 to 8 hours.
Cactus rarely need fertilizer, but if you wish to encourage flowers and fruit, feed the plant in late winter to early spring with a balanced cactus food. Water plants when the top 3 inches (7.6 cm.) of soil is dry to the touch. Minimize watering by half in winter.
Other than that, watching the plant for signs of mealybugs and scale are the primary care issues. Tulip prickly pear care is very straightforward and these plants will reward you with a number of seasonal attributes to brighten up your landscape.
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Read more about Prickly Pear Cactus
Opuntia Species, Mojave Prickly Pear, Tulip Prickly Pear, New Mexico Prickly Pear, Bastard Fig
|Family:||Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Opuntia (op-UN-shee-a) (Info)|
|Species:||phaeacantha (fay-uh-KANTH-uh) (Info)|
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
Where to Grow:
Plant has spines or sharp edges use extreme caution when handling
Soil pH requirements:
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen clean and dry seeds
Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed clean and dry seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Black Canyon City, Arizona
Grand Junction, Colorado(2 reports)
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts
On Apr 28, 2012, Peterthecactusguy from Black Canyon City, AZ wrote:
Dunno where you guys get your common names from but this cactus is known BY none of those names and a search for the Binomal name comes up with nothing.
These are found around the BCC and hybridize easily with O. engelmannii. It's hard to tell all the hybrids apart but generally O, engelmannii has pale yellow to bright yellow flowers. O. phaeacantha has yellow flowers with bright red.
Orange flowered ones are usually O. engelmannii AND should not be considered a hybrid between O. engelmannii and O. phaeacantha
On Dec 27, 2010, dave12122 from East Haddam, CT wrote:
This is the staple of any hardy Opuntia garden. Tolerates some winter wet, but leaves will spot if moisture collects on them for a prolonged period of time. The plant is rather "clunky" and dumpy, but the large flowers (in plum, brilliant red, etc.) are attractive. Unfortunately, each only lasts one day.
On Apr 5, 2010, peejay12 from Porthleven, Helston, Cornwall,
United Kingdom (Zone 9b) wrote:
I live in Cornwall, UK, zone 9b. Opuntia phaeacantha and some other Opuntia species are perhaps the most surprisingly successful of all the unusual succulents we can grow in our gloomy cool wet climate.
I have grown these plants in zone 8b too, and they have never suffered any damage at all -- even in the wettest, coldest winters. They do not even seem to need special soil, as long as it is reasonably well-drained.
'Experts' still insist that Opuntia humifusa is the only species which can be grown in the UK, but this is just not true. I have grown four large species (unidentified) for twenty years now, and they have been highly successful -- even in really bad winters. Their only enemies are snails which leave greyish brown scars, but the species with close. read more ly spaced spines are almost immune from attack.
Definitely worth growing alongside Aloe striatula, Sedum confusum, Delosperma cooperi and Yuccas for a hardy desert garden.
The larger species cannot be relied upon to flower, but O humifusa flowers very profusely.
On Jun 8, 2009, shindagger from Oklahoma City, OK wrote:
I love this cactus. A friend dug it up for me from his son's yard in Albuquerque as it was being run over with the lawnmower and he hated it and thought of it as a pest. It has creamy light yellow flowers and gets pretty pink pears. I think of it as a rescue cactus. It's got great spines.
On Oct 5, 2004, Xenomorf from Phoenix, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:
The flowers are fairly attractive, and the fruit (tuna) are one of the popular species for making jams & jellies.
There are about 10 semi-accepted varieties in the U.S. & about 7 in Mexico, much research needs to be done to determine which ones will become official. I have not a guide to any of the varieties, if any one has one, let me know.
One of the common names for the varieties is "Yellow-spined prickly pear" which could possibly be the ones I have posted picts of.
On Mar 9, 2004, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:
This is a child hood nightmare cactus. all over the southwest (very cold hardy- often lives in climates where it snows 1/3 of the year). Can't recall the number of times I've had to pull spines out from this plant. Not that attractive, either.
White Clumpy Fungus Like Substance On Prickly Pear Cactus - Knowledgebase Question
|I have some 10 year old prickly pear cactus that are getting this white clumpy growth all over the cactus pads. From a distance it looks Styrofoam or cottage cheese. I have sprayed it off. Should I treat it with something?|
The large masses of white wax that appears on the pads of some prickly pear cactus is insect related. The wax comes from an insect common to the Sonoran desert called "cochineal scale."
Cochineal is a tiny red sucking insect that draws the fluid from pads of prickly pear. As they feed, they produce masses of a white waxy material as a coating to help protect them from predatory insects and birds looking for a tasty meal.
If the infestation of cochineal scale is light, you can save the pads by spraying away the protective wax with a garden hose. After the pads dry, spray a soap solution on the now-exposed scale to kill them. An effective soap solution is two tablespoons of liquid dishwashing detergent to one gallon of water.
Untreated, cochineal scale can do significant damage to the prickly pears they feed upon and control measures are advised. Pads that are heavily covered with wax and scales should be pruned off and removed.
Overwatering a prickly pear is an easy mistake to make because cacti require far less water than most people might expect. Overwatering can lead to root rot and to scab, which appears as rusty-colored, corky areas on the stems. Cacti should be allowed to dry out completely between watering. In well-drained soil, prickly pear only requires water every 10 to 14 days during summer months. If you’re unsure whether to water or not, check the root zone 2 to 3 inches below the surface of the soil. If the soil is even a little bit damp, do not water until it has dried.
How to Grow Prickly Pears
Last Updated: October 8, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
There are 20 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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The prickly pear, which is also referred to as the Indian fig, is a type of cactus that’s native to South America, Central America, and the southern parts of North America. Although they prefer desert climates, prickly pears will actually grow in a wide variety of soils, moisture levels, and temperatures. The pads and the fruit of the prickly pear are edible, but the cactus is also grown as an ornamental plant, because it has pretty flowers that range from orange to yellow to white. To grow a prickly pear, you can buy an established plant, germinate seeds from the fruit, or propagate a new plant from an existing one.