Wild South Florida — Naturally Wild
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Pricklypear, photographed at Tivoli Sand Pines Preserve, Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach County, in April 2014.

Yep. Pricklypear is a native of subtropical Florida. Take a look at the dunes during your next visit to the beach. You might spot the cactus growing amid the sea oats. And if you're lucky, it will be in bloom.

But it really shouldn't a surprise to find it here. Pricklypear, Opuntia Humifusa, can be found throughout the eastern United States and even into Canada. It's a testiment to how extremely adaptable pricklypear can be.

Some varieties of pricklypear can grow to 20 feet in height, but the variety most common to Florida, the eastern pricklypear, grows to less than two feet. Other names include devils tongue and Indian fig. Pricklypears produce showy flowers in the spring and summer, with colors ranging from yellow to red to purple, and bear deep red fruit that are edible once you deal with those spines. Not an easy proposition. Those spines really hurt more than the prick they produce.

Opuntia and related species — paddle cacti, distinguished by their jointed stems, or pads — number about 100 or so in the U.S. The Institute for Regional Conservation lists eight members of opuntia as inhabiting South Florida, of which four are native. Two, cubensis, commonly called bullsuckers, and triacanthos, jumping cactus, are rare and restricted to the Keys. Humifusa, eastern prickly pear, found throughout much of Florida, is common. The USDA calls this cactus devil's tongue. The fourth native, stricta, or erect pricklypear, is listed as threatened by Florida officials; the IRC, however, considers the South Florida population secure. Non-natives include cochineal cactus, undulate pricklypear, spineless cactus and elephantear pricklypear. Pricklypear is also spelled prickly pear. Look for them in scrubs and rocky barrens.


Photographs by David Sedore


United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distribution maps for pricklypear.

prickly pear u.s.
Links for Prickleypear
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.