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Prickly pear

Prickly pears are any of a dozen species of cactus, all in genus Opuntia, that grow edible fruit. Native to the American Southwest, they grow only in the Americas, as do all cacti.

Prickly pears usually grow with flat, rounded segments that are amply armed with two kinds of spines: large, fixed spines and small, almost hairlike spines that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant.

Many types of prickly pear can grow into dense, tangled structures.

Prickly pears are the only type of cactus normally found in the eastern United States, and are the most cold-tolerant of the cacti. Species normally found in the eastern U. S. are:

  • Opuntia fragilis -- little prickly pear, found in the northern Great Plains and as far west as British Columbia, also found in the southern Great Plains
  • Opuntia humifusa -- eastern prickly pear, found throughout the U. S. east of the Great Plains and into southern Ontario
  • Opuntia macrorhiza -- plains prickly pear, found throughout the Great Plains except for the northernmost areas (not found in North Dakota, and extending sporadically eastward as far as Kentucky


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