Click on image for full screen view.


Purple-fruited Prickly Pear, Brown-spined Prickly Pear
Opuntia phaeacantha

Purple-fruited prickly pear has adapted itself to a variety of habitats and is likely the most widespread and common prickly pear in the desert southwest. From Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico, it inhabits deserts, grasslands and mountains from 2000 to 8000 feet. It is low and prostrate to somewhat erect, forming large clumps 2 to 4 feet in diameter and 2 to 3 feet tall, or occasionally forming sprawling chains with several joints on edge along the ground. In cold weather the bluish-green joints develop red-purple pigments which, in healthy plants, disappear during warm moist weather. Its flowers open bright yellow and develop shades of pinkish orange with age. The fruits (tunas) are mahogany in color and are relished by people and eagerly devoured by javelina, pack rats and coyotes. They are covered by small spines that easily penetrate into hands. The spines are usually dark grey-brown; phaecantha means dark-thorned. There are 10 recognized varieties of purple-fruited prickly pear and these may hybridize with other Opuntia species. This hybridizing would explain some of the previous taxonomic confusion and the present complexity of the species. The Opuntia phaecantha complex has been recently intensively studied and continues to undergo investigation.

Plant Habit or Use: small shrub

Exposure: sun
partial sun

Flower Color: bright yellow fading to pink - orange

Blooming Period: spring

Fruit Characteristics: purplish, maroon, fleshy

Height: 2 to 3 feet

Width: 2 to 4 feet

Plant Character: evergreen

Heat Tolerance: very high

Water Requirements:

Soil Requirements: neutral

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7

Additional Comments: Purple-fruited prickly pear pads are toxic to most animals due to the high content of oxalic acid. However javelina consume them regularly for food and moisture, as they have evolved a kidney modification which permits them to excrete the oxalic acid. They actually eat huge quantities of the pads, spines and all, without harm.

| Index of Scientific Names | Index of Common Names | Photo Gallery Index |