flowers and fruit
It is a
perennial whit flattened joints,
spreading or erect
in the wild it spreads to forms small colonies
up to 1
( or more as pads break off and root
round to obovate or elliptical, green (more or less purple tinged in winter) ,
flattened 5-15 cm long, 1 cm thick. The young cladodes are erect but
in autumn become quite shrivelled and begin
to lie down as the plants withdraw water in preparation for winter.
Rarely overcome the eight of 30 cm.
nasty tufts of yellow-brown glochids 3mm long. Subdivided regularly
trough the whole surface and spaced out 1-2cm.
Spineless or with
a few scattered needle-like spines,
usually single or sometimes paired. brown or grey to black 2-2,5cm
Conic, ephemeral 8 mm long.
showy of a bright yellow colour, 5-7cm diameter, have 8-12 yellow
rays and a bushy clump of yellow central stamens that react to the
contact whit insect ( due to the sensitive filaments). Hermaphrodite
(have both male and female organs) and autosterile.
Red-purple or reddish pyriform fleshy 1,5-4cm long and up to 2-3cm
wide; edible, whit glochidiate areoles.
Discoidal whit a whitish thick arillus (6-33 per fruit)
June – July.
ripen in late summer to autumn but can
hang on the plant all year round.
Though technically evergreen , the plants become quite deflated and
scraggly in appearance during winter. However, the pads green up and
plump up quickly in spring.
Opuntia humifusa is one of the more frost
resistant cactus (Some population strive at 45° C under zero during the
hard Canadian winter in south Ontario) easily recognizable for the
rounded pads that wither and contract in winter. It is also commonly
known with the name of
Wet and frost no problem! A plant in our garden emerging from the melting snow.
Spring time in the rock garden.
Cultivation: It is a low maintenance plant that tolerate considerable neglect
and will naturalize . Easy to cultivate outdoor in dry, sandy or
gravely, well-drained soils. May be grown in clay soils as long
as drainage is good and soils do not remain wet, it is very
adaptable both in acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils, but
prefers a pH in the range 6 to 7.5. No serious insect or disease
problems. Can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
Must be kept fairly dry in
winter but likes a reasonable supply of water in the growing
season, tolerate dry condition but suffer if exposed to
prolonged and severe drought. A position at the base of a
south-facing wall or somewhere that can be protected from winter
rain is best for this plant, but is however resistant to
moisture and rain.
Sun Exposure: Full sun
(only), in semi shaded position wont produce many flowers.
Frost Tolerance: (Temperature Zone: USDA
hardy to zone 4) Not frost tender. Plants
are very cold-hardy , tolerating temperatures of -25° to -45° C
(depending on clone) , they are also quite tolerant of winter wet. (In
good drained soils)
Propagated by cuttings of leaf pads at any time
in the growing season: previous year's pads may be severed at
the joint during the growing season, dried for a week to ensure
that the base is thoroughly dry and then planted directly in the
garden (joint wound down) or in a potting medium. May also be
grown from seed with moderate difficulty. Seed - sow early
spring in a very well-drained compost in a greenhouse. When they
are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into
individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least
their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent
positions in late spring or early summer, after the last
expected frosts. Give the plants some protection from winter
wet. Make sure you have some reserve plants in case those
outdoors do not overwinter.
O. humifusa pads are covered in
numerous nasty barbed glochids (little prickles) not so much sharp
and spiny as persistent and irritating. These glochids are easily
dislodged when the plant is touched and then become stuck to the
skin where they are difficult to see and remove, can cause
considerable discomfort. Need a little care in handling.
Fruits: Fleshy, sweet, gelatinous and insipid.
Native Americans eat them fresh, cooked or dried for later use.
The unripe fruits can be added to soups etc, imparting an
okra-like mucilaginous quality
Pads: Watery and very mucilaginous, can be
eaten [after removing the glochids!] as a raw vegetable (in
green salads) or cooked (boiled or roasted )
Seed: Seeds can be briefly roasted then ground
into a powder. They are also used as a thickener.
The Indian applies a poultice of the peeled pads to wounds, sores
(Dakota and Pawnee) on the snake bites and on the rheumatism
juice of the fruits is used as a treatment for wart
pectoral tea made from the pads is used in the treatment of lung
gardens, raised beds, stone walls, sandy slopes, dry prairie, small
area ground cover, pots.
It is used as a winter hardy grafting stock for a range of cactus
The Crow, Dakota and Pawnee used O. humifusa as an addictive to made
their tinctures. It is also possible to use it (as for O.
ficus-indica) to obtain a gum from its stem. It is used as a
masticatory or can be mixed with oil to make candles. The juice of
the boiled stem segments is very sticky. It is added to plaster,
whitewash etc. to make it adhere better to walls.
Photo of conspecific taxa, varieties, forms and
cultivars of plants belonging to the
Opuntia humifusa (compressa)
has lots of synonyms
like many other cacti) whit several controversial varieties and subspecies
and comprises a multitude of different forms, but where each form
is linked to others by populations of plants with intermediate
(Rafinesque) Rafinesque 1830
in: Medical Flora 2:247. 1830
(Without direct reference to the
that is , formally, Opuntia humifusa my be considered a
nudum (According to Merrill, Ind. Rafinesquianus 171 (1948))
(similarly published by Schlechter, Linnaea 8 Lit. Ber. 31 (1833)).
Conservation status: Listed in CITES Appendix
Cactus humifusus Rafinesque1820 Published
in: Annals of Nature 1:15. 1820
It is native of
Great Plains in
North America, has good winter hardiness and
grows as far north as southern Ontario
Naturalized elsewhere in north America, South and Central Europe;
Argentina; China; Ethiopia; Haiti; Mauritius; South Africa; It is
in Australia and Tasmania.
It commonly occurs in rocky open glades, dry rocky or sandy
grasslands, sandy and gravely washes of valleys along streams,
sand dunes, open woods and along railroad tracks.
Flowers are pollinated by insects and its seeds are dispersed by small
mammals, in particular rabbits, and occasionally by the birds which
consume its fruits.
The seeds resist indeed a passage in the digestive system of these
animals. It have a preference for the open areas and disappears when
too high plants invade its habitat.
refers to a Greek name used by Pliny for a diverse plant which grew in
the region of the town of Opus in Greece
(The genus name implies: “plant of the town
The species name "humifusa"
“humus” meaning "soil,
, plus “i” the connective vowel used by botanical
Latin and the adjective “fusus” meaning
“spread out, extended ”
(The specific name implies:
The species name (synonym)
(The specific name implies:
Cactus humifusus Rafinesque1820
Place of publication:
Ann. nat. 1:15. 1820
Opuntia humifusa (Rafinesque) Rafinesque 1830 Place of
publication: Med. fl. 2:247. 1830
Cactus compressus R. A. Salisbury (Nom
(R. A. Salisbury)
auct. non J. F. MacBride 1922
Opuntia vulgaris A .Gray non P. Miller
Photo courteously provided by: Pál Vajda ~ Nagykőrös
A plant in ice
Photo courteously provided by
William Della Rocco - Maine USA
Opuntia compressa growing outdoor
in Kingsbrae Gardens St. Andrea Canada
Plants (after winter rest) have almost purple/violet
retracted (compressed) pads in winter.
It is used as a winter hardy
grafting stock for a range of cactus species.