Spineless prickly pear cactus

Spineless Prickly Pear Info – Tips For Growing Ellisiana Prickly Pears

If you are among the many gardeners who like cactus but don’t like spines, it may be time to consider installing Ellisiana cactus in your backyard. Its scientific name is Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ but it is better known as spineless prickly pear. What is a spineless prickly pear? Read on for spineless prickly pear information including tips on growing Ellisiana prickly pear.

What is a Spineless Prickly Pear?

The spineless prickly pear is a type of evergreen cactus that, unlike other types of prickly pear cacti, isn’t armed and dangerous. If you are looking for a succulent that looks like a cactus but doesn’t have long, pointed spines, an Ellisiana cactus might be the plant for you.

According to spineless prickly pear information, the plant offers many attractive features in addition to not having spines. During the summer, it grows large bright yellow blossoms that attract hummingbirds. It also produces bright red fruits called tunas.

Growing Ellisiana Prickly Pears

If you are interested in growing Ellisiana prickly pears, you’ll want to check your hardiness zones. According to prickly pear information, this cactus is quite cold hardy for a succulent. The Ellisiana cactus is also tolerant of heat. You can start growing Ellisiana prickly pears in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10.

Spineless Prickly Pear Care

Ellisiana cactus is a very easy-care plant for your backyard. The most important part of spineless prickly pear care is planting the cactus in appropriate soil. Pick a soil that is both well-drained and rich. Gritty or sandy soil is just fine.

Irrigation is a part of spineless prickly pear care, but you don’t have to invest much water here. The cactus prefers evenly moist soil in summer, but it is drought tolerant. It requires little, if any, irrigation in winter.

One of the primary attributes of the Ellisiana cactus is its lack of sharp spines, but it isn’t entirely risk free. You can get tiny slivers from the pads, so when you touch them, do so between the glochid dots or wear gloves just to be safe.

Those growing Ellisiana prickly pears should note that three parts of the cactus are edible. You can eat the cactus pad as a vegetable, add blossom petals to salads and eat the fruit like any other fruit.

More Information About Opuntia

Opuntia is a rather large genus of cacti, containing some 200 or more succulent species native to the deserts of the Americas. Opuntia are amazingly adaptable and can be found native in almost every US state and Canada.

Opuntia species have a distinctive look, with flat pads (phylloclades), beautiful, large flowers and fig-sized, maroon fruits. Both the fruits and the young pads are edible provided that you carefully remove all of the thorns and glochids (small spiny hairs). Some people also use opuntia sap as a hair conditioner. How ironic to get rid of dry “cactus hair” by putting cactus in your hair!

Some of the more popular opuntia cultivars are thornless but are still armed. There are two types of barbed spines on Opuntia, the large thorns and the tiny, hair-like barbs called glochids. Spineless opuntia still have at least a few glochids which can get under your skin and are very irritating. This trait also makes Opuntia deer-resistant.

Opuntia prefers to grow in full sun and very well-drained soil, as it has no tolerance of wet feet, especially in winter. They are also salt tolerant plants. The amazing flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds. Opuntia is a tough group of plants and quite drought-tolerant. Try growing opuntia in a Southwest-themed garden, rock garden or intermix it with fine textured perennials such as coreopsis, amsonia, or penstemon. When you are ready to buy opuntia for your perennial garden, we hope you’ll check out our online offering of opuntia for sale.

Check out our in depth article on Cacti for the Southeast.

for the Northeast Florida Landscape

( Opuntia spp.)

Opuntia Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus Origins:

Prickly Pear Cactus is native to the Americas. Mexico, the Carribean Islands, and much of the dryer desert areas of the United States. There are 9 species of native Optunia that can be found growing in Florida. The spiness Prickly pear is a selection thought to be a mutation of the Optunia Species that has been passed along and cultivated for it’s friendlier foliage. Don’t let that lack of thorns make you complacent, a nice thick pair of leather gloves and a pair of tongs is still the best way to harvest fruits and pads of even the spineless prickly pear plant. Most Optunia would have large spines coming out of each raised bump on the pads as well as the smaller hidden glochids, spineless prickly pear is missing those larger thorns that warn us to stay away but still retains it’s tiny fiber hairs that are the hidden defense against invaders called glochids.

Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus plants make great low maintenance landscape plant options for the Jacksonville and St. Augustine areas of Northeast Florida.

With their unique architectural growth habits, pretty flowers, salt tolerance,edible pads and ornamental fruits they are the picture of garden vesatility. Spineless prickly pear is just as at home in a garden perennial bed amongst the flowers as they are the edible landcape or in a rock garden.

Sun / Shade Exposure for Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus:

– Plant in a full sun or a partially shaded location in the Northeast Florida | Jacksonville | St. Augustine area landscape.

Foliage and Growth Habit and Mature Size of the Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus:

Bright green new growth with soft thornlike projections grows into large 4-6 inch wide pads that are 6-8 inches long on average. Each pad is covered on both sides by elevated bumps called areoles, it is these areoles where you will find thorns and or glochids of the optunia cactus plants. The cactus pads for us serve much the purpose of leaves in their ornamental value but interestingly enough are technically modified stem segments. Most cactus do have leaves but like on the Optunia Spp. they are inconspicuous.

The stem segments or pads break off and build on one another to form an interestingly architectural display that can reach heights of 6-10 feet High and 6 feet wide.

Soil Preference / Salt tolerance of Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus Plants:

Spineless Prickly Pear plants will prefer extremely well draining soils that are comprised mostly of sand. Avoid planting yor Cactus plants into wet soils. It would be a good idea to relegate your Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus plantings to raised bed areas and decorative containers if the soil where you would like your plants to be is on the moist side.

Prickly Pear plants are salt tolerant and make a great plant selection for coastal plantings.

Water Requirements:

Cactus are extremely drought tolerant as their foliage is a water storage unit for the plant allowing it to survive periods of extreme drought unharmed.

Allow your Spineless Prickly Pear plants to go unwatered during the winter months to strengthen their defense against a hard freeze.

Care of Spineless Prickly Pear in the Northeast Florida / Jacksonville and St. Augustine Landscape:

– Plant into well drained soil that does not stay moist or wet long after rains. In frequently moist or water logged soils consider building up a of sandy soil at least 6 inches above grade and two to three feet wide to plant your Prickly Pear Cactus in.

– Prickly Pear Cactus make great container plantings as containers tend to dry out quickly even with daily rains. Consider planting in a decorative container with drain holes that can be planted into the ground with a minimum of one third to one half of the pot left above the existing soil level.

– Water once or twice a week during the establishment period after planting in the garden from an S & J Nursery container.

– Mulch heavily to reduce weed growth under the foliage.

Click here for more information on S & J Tree Farm and Nursery’s

Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus

for the Northeast Florida Landscape

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Succulent Plants For Northeast Florida Landscapes

Opuntia cacanapa

Griffiths & Hare, New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin (New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts) 60: 47, 1906

O. alta is another tree-type Opuntia

What is Opuntia cacanapa?

Opuntia cacanapa is a large prickly pear cactus that occurs in Brewster County, TX and southeast to the Gulf Coast as well as in adjacent Mexico. It also occurs inland on the South Texas Plains where it is sympatric with other Opuntia species.


O. cacanapa can reach 2-2.5 m tall. The largest branches/trunk may be 16 cm in diameter. O. cacanapa forms a large, open, branching prickly pear with blue-green and glaucous cladodes; it may grow into a tree shape or form a large shrub. The cladodes are up to 20 cm in longest diameter and are suborbicular, oval, or obovate. The 3-5 cm long spines of this Opuntia are yellow and sometimes brown or reddish-brown at the base. Spines may curve out from the areoles. Some plants may lack spines in most areoles. Leaves are strongly recurved.

The stigma of the yellow flowers is pale, yellowish-green, or pale green.

O. cacanapa is diploid.

Other Notes

Lack of spines is a feature of some Opuntia species and is not unknown. However, lack of glochids is a very unusual condition in any prickly pear.

O. alta, another arborescent Texas prickly pear, has recurved leaves, but they don’t curl back as strongly.

O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ is garden variant of O. cacanapa that has no spines at all and essentially no glochids. O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ may seem different from the parent Opuntia. However, O. cacanapa and O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ share key features that demonstrate their relatedness: 1) strongly recurved leaves on cladodes and flowers, 2) pale stigmas with white styles, 3) white filaments with yellow anthers, 4) general shape and size of the fruits, 5) obovate or subcircular cladodes, 6) identical bloom periods, and 7) arborescent growth or formation of large shrubs.

O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ is hardy in USDA climate zone 8. Without spines or glochids, it is a wonderful garden plant. It is not fast growing and can be kept small by pruning. However, it needs some size to bloom.

Opuntia cacanapa Opuntia cacanapaOpuntia cacanapaOpuntia cacanapa
Opuntia cacanapaOpuntia cacanapaOpuntia cacanapaOpuntia cacanapa
Opuntia cacanapa Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’
Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, Austin, TX Opuntia cacanapa with very few spines, Megan E Hansen
Opuntia cacanapa, El Indio, TX Opuntia cacanapa, El Indio, TX Opuntia cacanapa, El Indio, TX Opuntia cacanapa, Los Imagines, TX
Opuntia cacanapa, near Uvalde, TX, Hayes Jackson Opuntia cacanapa, Rio Grande CIty, TX Opuntia cacanapa, very cold weather Opuntia cacanapa, very cold weather
Opuntia cacanapa, very cold weather Opuntia cacanapa, very few spines, El Indio, TX Opuntia cacanapa, Zapata, TX Opuntia cacanapa, Zapata, TX
Opuntia cacanapa, Zapata, TX

Scientific name

Opuntia engelmannii (Prickly Pear Cactus)

Opuntia engelmannii Salm-Dyck ex. Engl.


Opuntia lindheimeri Engelm.; Opuntia tardospina Griffiths

Common names

Prickly pear cactus, Engelman’s prickly pear, Cactus apple, cow’s tongue cactus




North and Central America

Naturalised distribution (global)

Locations within which Opuntia engelmannii is naturalised include southern and eastern Africa.

Introduced, naturalised or invasive in East Africa

Opuntia engelmannii is invasive in parts of Kenya including Loisaba in northern Kenya.. The editors are not aware of any records of this species in Uganda and Tanzania, though this does not necessarily mean that it is absent from these countries.


Sandy and gravelly soils, semi-arid areas and savanna.


Opuntia engelmannii is a succulent branched shrub that grows up to 1.5 m tall.

The pads (cladodes) are grey-green, egg-shaped in outline but with the narrower end at the base (obovate) to round, about 15-30 cm long and 12-20 cm wide. The yellow to white spines, mainly found in the top half of the cladode, are up to 6 cm long, slightly curved and very hard.

The flowers are yellow, occasionally reddish, funnel-shaped, 5-8 cm in diameter and about the same in length.

The plant bears purple fleshy fruits that are 3-7 cm long. The fruit is edible.

Reproduction and dispersal

Opuntia engelmannii reproduces by stem fragments (stem segments may become dislodged and produce roots) and also by seeds.

Economic and other uses

Opuntia engelmannii is cultivated as an ornamental or as live hedge and the fruit is edible. However, these uses cannot compensate for this plant’s overall negative impacts.

Environmental and other impacts

Opuntia engelmannii is a weed of pasture land and The spines can injure people, livestock and wild herbivores. The plant lowers the value of pastures and it also curtails movement of grazing animals. It displaces native species and prevents the free movement of wildlife.

O. engelmannii (under the name of Opuntia lindheimeri) has been listed as a noxious weed in South Africa (prohibited plants that must be controlled. They serve no economic purpose and possess characteristics that are harmful to humans, animals or the environment) and in most Australian states.


The precise management measures adopted for any plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the terrain, the cost and availability of labour, the severity of the infestation and the presence of other invasive species. Some components of an integrated management approach are introduced below.

The best form of invasive species management is prevention. If prevention is no longer possible, it is best to treat the weed infestations when they are small to prevent them from establishing (early detection and rapid response). Controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

Manual control can be effective when numbers of plants are very low but must be done carefully otherwise plant fragments will resprout into new plants, thus exacerbating the infestation. Both the spines make this a difficult and uncomfortable process). Burning of uprooted plants will help minimise this risk if there is enough dry material to ensure that the material burns. Plants can be treated by herbicide stem injections. When using any herbicide always read the label first and follow all instructions and safety requirements. If in doubt consult an expert.

Controlled burns have been used to control Opuntia species. Such burns must be well-timed and coordinated to reduce the risk of creating a bushfire and there must be sufficient material to carry a hot fire. Fire could be used for small, isolate stands but it will not penetrate large stands.

The moth Cactoblastis cactorum feeds on this plant in its larval stages and can help control Opuntia engelmannii as part of an integrated control programme. It was introduced to Tanzania but never established. It is likely that some cochineal species which feed on Opuntia species have been introduced to East Africa. This group offers some prospects for biological control of Opuntia species.


Not listed as a noxious weed by the state or governments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Anderson, E.F. (2001). The Cactus Family. Timber Press, pp. 497-498.

Wikipedia contributors. “Opuntia engelmannii.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed March 2011.


Agnes Lusweti, National Museums of Kenya; Emily Wabuyele, National Museums of Kenya, Paul Ssegawa, Makerere University; John Mauremootoo, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL Secretariat – UK.


This fact sheet is adapted from The Environmental Weeds of Australia by Sheldon Navie and Steve Adkins, Centre for Biological Information Technology, University of Queensland. We recognise the support from the National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) – Tanzania and Makerere University, Uganda. This activity was undertaken as part of the BioNET-EAFRINET UVIMA Project (Taxonomy for Development in East Africa).


BioNET-EAFRINET Regional Coordinator: [email protected]

How to Care for a Prickly Pear Cactus

Use these instructions to care for a prickly pear cactus. this guide will tell you how to water your prickly pear cactus, its light, temperature, and humidity preferences; and any additional care your plant might need to help it grow.


Place your potted Prickly Pear Cactus on a southeast or west-facing window sill that receives full, direct sunlight in the spring through fall. In the winter, find a bright indirect sunny area. Transition your Prickly Pear Cactus to the direct light in small increments in the early spring.


Water your Prickly Pear Cactus sparingly, almost to the point of when the plant begins to wrinkle. Then give it a good long drink with lukewarm water until you see it flow from the bottom into the saucer. Always empty the saucer of any standing water. In the winter, you may only need to water 1-2 times when the plant is dormant. Avoid splashing water onto the plant.


Your Prickly Pear requires no additional humidity.


Keep the room temperature between 55-90 degrees. Keep the Prickly Pear away from heating or cooling vents, fans, heaters, and air conditioning units that cause fluctuating temperatures. In the wintertime, try to place your Prickly Pear in a cooler setting with plenty of bright indirect sunlight.


Before applying any type of plant food, make sure the soil is already damp-never apply to dry soil. Your Prickly Pear Cactus requires fertilizer once in the spring and once in the summer. Apply an all-purpose, liquid plant food diluted to half strength. Do not fertilize your Prickly Pear in the fall or winter when plant growth naturally slows.


When handling a Prickly Pear, it is suggested to use gloves or wrap the plant in something that the spines cannot puncture the skin.


Non-toxic to pets and children. However, beware of the spines and thorns!

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