Opuntia compressa
Common Name: prickly-pear 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Cactaceae
Native Range: Eastern and central United States
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: Yellow (sometimes with reddish eye)
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest, Thorns
Tolerate: Rabbit, Drought, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil


Easily grown in dry, sandy or gravelly, well-drained soils in full sun. May be grown in clay soils as long as drainage is good and soils do not remain wet. Shallow fibrous roots. Plants often spread in the wild to form colonies as pads break off and root nearby. Similarly, plants are easily propagated by cuttings: previous year's pads may be severed at the joint during the growing season, dried for a week and then planted directly in the garden (joint wound down) or in a potting medium. May also be grown from seed with moderate difficulty.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Opuntia compressa, a prickly pear cactus, is a clump-forming, semi-prostrate, Missouri native cactus which typically grows 6-14" tall. It commonly occurs in rocky open glades, rocky prairies, sandy and gravelly washes of valleys along streams, fields, open woods and along railroad tracks in central and southern parts of the State (Steyermark). It is the only cactus to be widely found in the eastern U.S., has good winter hardiness and grows as far north as southern Ontario. Features jointed, round-to-oval, flattened, succulent green pads (2-10" across) which are not leaves but swollen water-storing stem segments. Pads have only scattered needle-like spines, but are covered with numerous tufts of bristles (glochids) which easily pierce human skin and can cause significant allergic skin reactions. Showy bright yellow 2-3" diameter flowers, sometimes with a reddish eye, have 8-12 yellow rays and a bushy clump of yellow center stamens. Flowers bloom in June-July. Pulpy, red fruits (to 2") ripen in late summer to fall and are edible, most often being used to make candies and jams. Native Americans not only ate the fruits (fresh, cooked or dried for winter), but also roasted the pads as a vegetable and used the sap for certain medicinal applications. In autumn, the pads become quite shriveled and begin to lie down as the plants withdraw water in preparation for winter. Though technically evergreen, the plants become quite scraggly in appearance during winter. However, the pads green up quickly in spring. Synonymous with Opuntia humifusa.

Genus name comes from the Greek name for a different plant which grew around the ancient town of Opus in Greece.

Specific epithet means compressed or flattened.


No serious insect or disease problems. Various rots may occur, particularly when plants are grown in soils with poor drainage or too much moisture.


Rock gardens. Stone walls. Sandy slopes. Dry prairie areas. Small area ground cover.