Opuntia fragilis (Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus) - photos and description

Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis

General: Spiny cactus often found in clumps, having a decumbent growth habit, and with waxy yellow flowers in late June - early July.

Gardening note - I have grown Opuntia fragilis in my rock garden, but was rather disappointing and a nuisance. Never flowered after several years, and spread into large patches (I wanted small clumps only because it's no fun to weed around them). You can buy this plant via perennial plant catalogues in Canada.

Flowers: Flowers single on the top of pads, sessile, we measured flowers to 5 cm diameter.

Leaves: Pads are elliptical to spatulate in shape, measured to 5 cm long and 3 cm wide. Pads are brittle and break apart easily at the nodes. Spines measured to 23 mm long. 

Height: Height not given in Budd's Flora or Flora of Alberta, we measured plants to 11 cm tall.

Habitat: Sandy prairie and dry hillsides.

Abundance: Common.

Origin: Native.

Similar species: Pads are smaller, rounder in cross section, with thicker, rounder joints (internodes) compared to those of Opuntia Polyacantha our other native Prickly-Pear Cactus. Also the pads of Opuntia fragilis are easily broken off. An easy way to distinguish between the two species is to give a gentle kick to a clump of cactus (you're wearing hiking boots, right?). If the pads break off easily, its Opuntia fragilis.

When and where photographed: We took the above photos June 28th dry prairie  hillside, West block Grasslands National Park, about 400 km southwest of our home in Regina, SK.