Edge of the Prairiethe sand prairies and savannas of the Chicago region

    Opuntia humifosa
    Prickly pear cactus

When visiting a sand prairie in late June or early July, it's impossible to miss the large yellow wax paper like flowers of the prickly pear cactus. Many people find it hard to believe that this species is native in an area as humid as Indiana, but they thrive anywhere there is full sun, and pure well drained sand.

Opuntia humifosa, photo by Marty Lucas

At Big Eastern, in Starke County prickly pear grows in xeric sand prairie where associates include little bluestem grass, Helianthus occidentalis, Liatris aspera, and Lithospermum croceum, the last of which has an overlapping blooming period.

sand prairie in June, Starke County, Indiana

If you have pure sand in your garden, or can make a sand bed, prickly pear is an excellent plant for horticulture or xeriscaping. The site must receive full sun, the more the better, because leaf rot seems to be the main enemy of this succulent plant. It can be propagated from cuttings, and spreads fairly quickly. The spines are needle sharp and truly wicked, so be careful!

    View Large Images

Close-Up View of a prickly pear cactus in bloom. [157k]

Prickly pear cactus; a larger version of the first photograph on this page. [120k]

Opuntia humifosa with associates typical of sand prairie in the Kankakee sand region, including Helianthus occidentalis, Liatris aspera little bluestem grass and common bracken ferns. [243k]

All photographs by Marty Lucas and © Becknell and Lucas Media, Ltd. Students may freely use these images in school reports not for publication without requesting permission. Others, please request permission by writing e-mail to Marty Lucas. Requests for uses aiding in the understanding and appreciation of prairies and native plants are routinely granted. Higher resolution photographs (sans copyright notice) suitable for printing are available for purchase.


Opuntia humifosa on the Fire Effects Information Service.

Bumblebees go into a kind of frenzy when feeding on the nectar of the prickly pear.

A cactus spine imaged with a scanning electron microscope.

The Spring Green Preserve in Sauk County, Wisconsin, has an abundant population of prickly pear cactus.

The City of Fulton, Illinois has a sand prairie remnant preserve with Opuntia humifosa.



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