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Species Spotlight – Opuntia humifusa

Opuntia humifusa

More common than you might think, Opuntia humifusa grows in any deep, very well-drained soil

Opuntia humifusa grows throughout the Northeast

Opuntia humifusa, or “devil’s-tongue“, is a fairly ubiquitous eastern prickly pear cactus that thrives in any location with deep, well-drained soils and some other landscape feature that blocks the development of leafy plants, shrubs, and trees.  Opuntia humifusa needs a lot of sun, at least 8 hours a day, or it will begin to fade away.  Tall, light tree cover is ok (e.g., pitch pine) as long as the cactus receives its recommended daily dose of direct light.  Soils can be nearly anything as long as it lacks clay: sand, gravel, shale bits, and even airy humus (e.g., decomposed pine bark) all seem to suit the cactus.

Opuntia humifusa is often found on cliff faces, rocky outcrops, sand plains, or shale barrens through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware.  They’re quite easy to find if you keep their soil and light requirements in mind.

Very large and beautiful yellow flowers adorn the cactus in late June/early July, which are quickly replaced with bright purple, elongated fruits that are fairly sweet and tasty; the best way to eat them is to bite off the woody end of the fruit and suck out the fleshy pulp.  Sort and spit out the seeds into a baggie.

Growing Opuntia humifusa is rather easy.  Put the cleaned seeds in the refrigerator over the winter and plant in a loose potting soil with ample pearlite and place on your back porch; water normally.  You’ll see babies pop up in about 4 weeks; they’re very cute.  Just water and fertilize normally but keep the soil on the drier side of moist.

ArcheWild used to grow 1000s every year but market demand has waned considerably due to their soil and moisture requirements.  We still grow a few 100 every year for those that still want to try them.  We currently grow Opuntia humifusa from seed sourced in the Piedmont, specifically Ecoregion 064a.  Remember, devil’s-tongue is really very easy to grow in any deep, well-drained soil, almost of any kind, and they grow beautifully, and tastily.

A special thanks to photographer Krista Brownlee for the many fine Opuntia humifusa pictures.

Opuntia humifusa USDA range map.

Opuntia humifusa USDA Range MapAll plant images © 2012-2017 ArcheWild.

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