EASTERN PRICKLY PEAR

Optunia humifusa

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus, Optunia humifusa Cacti on Long Island?  Yes, their thick water-filled stems and spines put them in line with their desert cousins, but the local NYS prickly pears are especially resistant to frigid Northeast winters thanks to a special antifreeze-like chemical in their cells. Yet, it is not a cactus but a succulent.  The perfect ground cover for the driest part of your garden. Be sure to handle the cactus with care, as the pads are covered in clusters of barbed bristles. However, after carefully washing in water and cutting off the bristles, the leaf pads can be cooked like string beans and eaten.

Generally speaking, Opuntia cespitosa tends to be the rarer of the two species in New York, but the growth range of one often overlaps with the other, experts says. Confusingly, both species are referred to as prickly pear. Optunia humifusa is also called Eastern prickly pear or devil’s-tongue. The more temperate coastal environment created by the oceanic warmth  make for hospitable conditions for prickly pear to thrive. But the jury is out on whether the warming temperatures we’re experiencing due to climate change will be a boom or bust for the cactus, since it favors rocky, dry soil the most.

SPECS: Genus: Optunia ; Species: Humifusa; Plant Type: Succulent; Life Cycle: Perennial; Sun Exposure: Full Sun; Soil Moisture: Medium Dry, Dry, Well Drained; Height: 1′; Spread: 1′; Plant Spacing: 1′; Bloom Time: July — August; Bloom Color: Red, Yellow; Advantages: Birds, Pollinators, Showy; USDA Zone: 4 — 9; Attracts: Beneficial insects, Bumblebees, Carpenter bees, Honey bees, Hummingbirds, Long-tongued bees, Small black bees; Tolerant: Clay, Dry soils, Rocky soil, Salt;