Opuntia humifusa facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsEastern prickly pear
As is the case in other Opuntia species, the green stems of this low-growing perennial cactus are flattened, and are formed of segments. Barbed bristles are found around the surfaces of the segments, and longer spines are sometimes present. The flowers are yellow to gold in color, and are found along the margins of mature segments. The flowers are waxy and sometimes have red centers. They measure 4–6 cm (1 5⁄8–2 3⁄8 in) across. This cactus blooms in the late spring.
The juicy red or purple fruits measure from 3–5 cm (1 1⁄8–2 in). As the fruit matures, it changes colour from green to red, and often remains on the cactus until the following spring. There are 6 to 33 small, flat, light-colored seeds in each fruit.
Some botanists treat this cactus as a variety of Opuntia compressa: hence Opuntia compressa var. humifusa, or a synonym of Opuntia compressa. Those recognizing this species treat Opuntia rafinesquii as a junior synonym.
This species naturally occurs from arid areas of Montana southward to New Mexico, and eastward to the lower Great Lakes, and along the East Coast from the Florida Keys to coastal Connecticut. Its distribution in Canada is limited to the Carolinian forest in southern Ontario, specifically in Point Pelee National Park.
The Eastern prickly pear is one of the native cactus species in Canada and is considered endangered, with only two small populations known to be persisting today. Their population range in southern Ontario has diminished over time due to succession by larger woody vegetation which shade out the cacti.
This plant is very intolerant of shade and instead thrives in sunny, hot and dry environments with well-draining, sandy soil. Opuntia humifusa will grow in open areas in sandy, rocky and coastal scrub habits. They are capable of surviving cool winters unlike many cacti, although harsh winter storms are known to cause habitat loss.
The fruits are edible, but have small spiny bristles. The pulp can be scooped and the seeds strained out to make syrup or jelly. The seeds can be briefly roasted and ground into meal. Young cactus segments can be roasted to remove spines, then peeled and sliced to be eaten like string beans; alternatively, they can be deep fried. The leafy segments can be peeled and chewed for emergency hydration.
Opuntia humifusa Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.