Opuntia humifusa

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Opuntia humifusa
Opun humi.jpg
Photo by Wayne Matchett, SpaceCoastWildflowers.com
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Opuntia
Species: O. humifusa
Binomial name
Opuntia humifusa
(Raf.) Raf.
Opun humi dist.jpg
Natural range of Opuntia humifusa from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Common names: Devil's-tongue; Eastern prickly pear

Taxonomic notes

Synonyms: Opuntia humifusa (Rafinesque) Rafinesque var. humifusa; O. compressa (Salisbury) J.F. Macbride var. compressa; O. compressa; O. impedita Small; O. macrarthra Gibbes; O. opuntia (Linnaeus) Karten; O. calcicola Wherry; O. rafinesquei Engelmann


A description of Opuntia humifusa is provided in The Flora of North America.


It is the only cactus to be widespread in the eastern United States. [1] It is found in southern Canada as well as the eastern United States. [2]



Opuntia humifusa can occur in upland longleaf pines, sand dunes, Pinus clausa scrubs, open sand flats, sandhills, and pine/oak scrubs. It has been found in disturbed areas such as loblolly tree farms and roadside depressions. Associated species include Lyonia ferruginea, Lyonia lucida, Serenoa repens, Quercus geminata, Q. chapmanii, Persea humilis, Ceratiola, Osmanthus megacarpus, Rhynchospora megalocarpa, Galactia elliottii, and Smilax auriculata.[3]

It occurs in southern Canada, where average nighttime temperatures can reach -4 degrees Celsius. In order to prevent intracellular freeze dehydration and ice formation, individuals have an accumulation of sugars and mannitol in their cells. [2]


O. humifusa has been observed flowering April through July with peak inflorescence in May and fruiting January, May and December.[3][4]

Root stocks and detached cladodes can propagate vegetatively for up to 12 months after detachment. [2]

Seed dispersal

This species is thought to be dispersed by consumption by vertebrates. [5] The fruit is eaten and dispersed by birds, rabbits, woodrats, prairie-dogs, mice, ground squirrels, and white-tailed deer. [6]

Seed bank and germination

Germination rate is low. [6] O. humifusa is known to occur in above ground vegetation and in the fall surveyed seed bank in the southern ridge sandhill regions on south central Florida. [7]

Fire ecology

O. humifusa will resprout and recruite seedlings during post-fire recovery. [8]


The following Hymenoptera families and species were observed visiting flowers of Opuntia humifusa at Archbold Biological Station: [9]

Apidae: Apis mellifera, Bombus impatiens, B. pennsylvanicus, Mellisodes communis

Halictidae: Agapostemon splendens, Augochlorella aurata, Augochloropsis sumptuosa, Halictus poeyi, Lasioglossum nymphalis, L. puteulanum

Megachilidae: Dianthidium floridiense, Lithurgus gibbosus, Megachile brevis pseudobrevis, M. policaris

Use by animals

It is an important food for pocket gophers. [10] It is a host to the invasive cactus moth (Cactoblastis cactorum). [11] The large pads provides nesting to bobwhite quail. [12]

Conservation and management

Cultivation and restoration

Native Americans used the pads to heal wounds, warts, and drank pad tea for respiratory issues.[1]

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 [[1]] Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Accessed: February 12, 2016
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Goldstein, G. and P. S. Nobel (1994). "Water Relations and Low-Temperature Acclimation for Cactus Species Varying in Freezing Tolerance." Plant Physiology 104(2): 675-681.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: http://herbarium.bio.fsu.edu. Last accessed: October 2015. Collectors: Loran C. Anderson, Michael Blaker, M. Borgman, James R. Burkhaulter, George R. Cooley, R.J. Eaton, Patricia Elliott, J. Kevin England, Robert K. Godfrey, Darren Jackson, Ed Keppner, Lisa Keppner, Andrew McAllister, Sidney McDaniel, K.M. Meyer, James D. Ray Jr., Erik Robinson, L. Rosen, C.E. Smith, A. Townesmith, Kenneth A. Wilson, Carroll E. Wood Jr.. States and Counties: Alabama: Dale. Florida: Alabama, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Hernando, Jackson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, Walton, Wakulla, Washington. Compiled by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.
  4. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. www.gilnelson.com/PanFlora/ Accessed: 12 DEC 2016
  5. Kirkman, L. Katherine. Unpublished database of seed dispersal mode of plants found in Coastal Plain longleaf pine-grasslands of the Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia.
  6. 6.0 6.1 [[2]] Accessed: February 13, 2016
  7. Lang, N. L. 2011. Soil seed bank dynamics of southern Lake Wales Ridge sandhill communities. Archbold Biological Station, Venus, Florida,15 pg.
  8. Lang, N. L. 2011. Soil seed bank dynamics of southern Lake Wales Ridge sandhill communities. Archbold Biological Station, Venus, Florida,15 pg.
  9. Deyrup, M.A. and N.D. 2015. Database of observations of Hymenoptera visitations to flowers of plants on Archbold Biological Station, Florida, USA.
  10. Myers, G. T. and T. A. Vaughan (1964). "Food Habits of the Plains Pocket Gopher in Eastern Colorado." Journal of Mammalogy 45(4): 588-598.
  12. [[3]]Illinois Wildflowers. Accessed: February 15, 2016