Plant of the Month: Texas Prickly Pear


Special to the PRESS

This month, the Keep South Padre Island Beautiful committee is highlighting the Texas Prickly Pear as the plant of the month. The Texas Prickly Pear, or Opuntiaengelmannii, is part of the cactus family (cactaceae) and has also been called Lindheimer’s Prickly Pear, in honor of prominent Texas botanist, Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer.

The cactus has jointed, flattened stems that can reach more than ten inches. Their yellow spines tend to form clusters that are barbed for protection, and may be difficult to remove from skin. Plants can grow up to six feet tall, producing broad flowers in a range of colors. Petals tend to be yellow in the upper Rio Grande Valley, but in the Brownsville and Harlingen areas can occur in all shades ranging from red to orange, pink, and yellow.

Texas Prickly Pear plants bloom in the spring, and eventually produce an edible purple, pear-shaped fruit growing approximately two to three inches tall.  The cactus is tolerant to both hot and cooler climates and prefers to be planted in sun or partial shade in a drier soil. They require little water to survive. The Lendheimer’s Prickly Pear can be found in Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Starr counties, and is an important food plant for wildlife. Often, groups of scale insects colonize the plant and appear as a cottony white scale on the flat stems. The inner parts of these insects contain red cochineal dye, which has been used to dye textiles for centuries. Also, the Texas Prickly Pear is recognized by pollination ecologists as valuable in attracting large numbers of native bees to the area.

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