Opuntia engelmannii

Accession Count: 68
Common Name: Engelmanns Prickly Pear
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Family Name: Cactaceae
Botanical Name: Opuntia engelmannii
Botanical Synonyms: Platyopuntia engelmannii
Sub Species:
Characteristics: Opuntia engelmannii is among the most common species of prickly pear in the southwestern United States (1). It is a large, shrubby plant with ascending, or sometimes sprawling, segmented branches that can attain 12 feet in height (2). The plant is characterized by fleshy green pads, typically round to oval in shape, that
often measure up to 12 inches in diameter (1). Young pads are bright green in
color and are dotted with small bumps called areoles, which produce small
leaves that drop off as spines begin to develop (1,2). At each areole zero to eight flattened, yellow spines and numerous tiny, brownish glochids emerge (2,3). In
the spring, plants produce showy yellow flowers which are followed in summer by reddish-purple fruits (3).
Compound: Pla eng
Geographic Origin: Sonoran Desert
Ecozone Origin: Nearctic
Biome Origin:
Natural History: Opuntia engelmannii is found across the southern United States, from California to Mississippi, and throughout northern Mexico, growing at an elevation of 1,000 to
4,500 feet (2). It is typically found in in dry, upland conditions (3). O.engelmannii var. linguiformis is an interesting variant of the species that is characterized by long, narrow pads that taper toward the tip (1).
Cultivation Notes: Opuntia engelmannii requires minimal water and maintenance (2). The plant can reproduce by seed, but is most commonly propagated vegetatively through the pads, which easily root (2). Plants often form large, trunk-less clumps and can be used as accent plants, screens, or security barriers (1,2). Many animals are attracted to the plant for its fruit or flowers or for cover (2). O. engelmanni is also hardy to 5℉ and is suitable for sunny areas.
Ethnobotany: For naturalistic desert landscapes and gardens, Opuntia engelmannii is a good choice. The fruits, commonly referred to as “tunas,” are sweet and edible (3). They can be eaten raw (after the glochids are scraped or burned off) or used to make a variety of jams, sauces, or candies (3). Native American peoples ate the fruit fresh or dried and ground into meal for porridge (4). Fruits were also fermented and used as a beverage (4). After being roasted to remove spines, the pads are sliced into strips and cooked and eaten as a vegetable called nopal (pl. nopales), a name sometimes applied to the entire plant in Mexico. A red dye or paint can be obtained from the fruit (4). The spines have been used for needles (4).

Height: 6 - 10 feet
Width: 6 - 10 feet
Growth Rate: Slow Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Spring
Color: Yellow
Function: Screen
Spread: Spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Semi-hardy
Water Use: Low water Use

1. The American SouthwestAccessed December 18, 2016.

3. The Firefly ForestAccessed December 18, 2016.

4. Native American Ethnobotany DatabaseAccessed December 18, 2016.

5. Anderson, Edward F. The Cactus Family. 1st ed., Timber Press Incorporated, 2001.      
6. Urban Landscape Committee. Desert Accent Plants. Arizona Native Plant Society, 1992.


Opuntia engelmannii