Engelmann Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) 3-10 feet

Engelmann Prickly Pear Cactus

Engelmann Prickly Pear

This large sprawling cactus is formed of flat, rounded segmented stems. Its spines are chalky white and relatively short, 1/2" to 1" long. Flowers are yellow and are often plentiful in a spring following heavy winter rains. The fruit is a large red pod with juicy, edible pulp, often made into candies and jellies.

Prickly Pear fruit

The Engelmann variety is probably the most common prickly pear in southern Arizona, particularly around Tucson and Phoenix. It tolerates cold better than many cacti and is plentiful in Cochise County up to elevations of about 6,000 feet. It roots easily wherever a pad touches the ground, and new plants can be started in desert gardens simply by poking pads into the dirt. These transplants survive best if you don't water them for a month or so.

Prickly Pear in snow

Recommended reading:
Bowers, Nora and Rick. Cactus of Arizona Field Guide (Arizona Field Guides). Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc., 2008. This book classifies cacti by stem type rather than flower appearance as many plant guides do. This is helpful in identifying plants when not in flower. Stems are broken down into Cylindrical, Segmented, Stick-like, and Columnar, with varieties being grouped within each type: e.g. pincushion, barrel, hedgehog, cholla etc. This is a handy method of working and many varieties of each type are further described with close-up photos. An excellent guide to the Cacti of Arizona.

Epple, Anne Orth. Plants of Arizona. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, Inc., 1995. More than 800 excellent photos and complete descriptions of plants.

Jaeger, Edmund C. The North American Deserts. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957. An excellent book unfortunately out of print. Look for it at your library or your favorite used book source.

Larson, Peggy Pickering. The Deserts of the Southwest: A Sierra Club Naturalist's Guide (Sierra Club Naturalist's Guides) 2nd edition. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2000.

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