Introduction to Barrel Cactus Plants
Type 5 - Prickly Pear Cactus. Branches have round or cylindrical sections that drop off easily and become rooted.
This group of plants is characterized by a sectional growing habit, in which each section can be round like a pancake or cylindrical like a section of pipe. The newest sections are very loosely attached, fall off easily, move around, and may eventually become rooted into the ground. The older sections at the base of the plant become ridged and act as the supporting trunk.
Names and distribution: This group of plants is the largest in terms of numbers of species and geographical distribution. It includes thousands of species and it's range spans most of North and South America. It's range spans from Canada to Patagonia. Many species have even become naturalized in other parts of the world. Most of the species are within the Opuntia family, but there is also Maihueniopsis, Puna, Tacinga, Tephrocactus, Tunilla, Austrocylindropuntia, Cylindropuntia, and Grusonia.
Flowers: Many species in this group have spectacular flower displays mostly in the spring and summer. Quite a few species have bright yellow flowers. However, various shades of pink, red, and orange are not uncommon. Some species have inconspicuous flowers that are typically mixes of green and yellow or green and red. And a few species have brightly colored fruits that follow the flowering, such as the Christmas Cactus.
Spines: This group of plants have spines that differ from other cacti. Some have spines that are straight, but the tip of the spine is barbed. When it pokes an object like you clothing, it hooks in and is tough to extract. In fact, the more you tug on it, the deeper it goes in. The other type of spines are called glochids. They are very small like saw dust and dry ones can float freely in the air when the plant is moved. The glochids are grouped in small packets of a hundred or more and when touched, the entire packet will inject itself. These two types of spines make this group of cacti the most uncomfortable and memorable of all cacti. There are many techniques for removing the spines that get passed around like folklore from those people working in the trade. For the straight barbed spine, rather than trying to pull it straight out, try to figure which side of the tip is barbed, then try to twist the spine and unhook it like unhooking a fish hook from a fish. For the glochids, use a double edged shaver, and just scrape over the area that has the packet injection. The glochids will come out redily.
Common Names: There are many regional common names typically derived from the shape of the plant or ones close encounters. Some are named after animals: "Beaver Tale cactus", "Teddy Bear Cholla", "Buckhorn Cholla", "Cow's Tongue", or "Owl Face Opuntia". Others are named after other objects such as "Peanut Cactus", "Prickly Pear", or "Thumb Buttons". Still others are named after people or places: "Santa Rita Cactus", "Mini Rita Cactus", or "Indian Fig".
"Teddy Bear Cholla"
"Owl Face Opuntia"
Some Tips on Rooting Prickly Pear CactiPrickly pear cacti often flop or dry up when first planted. Here are some tips to get them started.
- Don't plant them right away. Let them dry out for a couple of weeks. Then when you plant them, don't water until they send out their own roots. This may take a couple of months.
- Most of the new growth occurs in the spring. New pads or sections appear on top of old ones. Those pads grow to full size over the summer. This is probably the best time to replant.
- Even though, they look unhappy, may even dry up and look dead, they probably still have enough energy to send out a new section or two during the next sprouting season. So, don't throw them away just because they look bad.