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Species at Risk


Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus

Opuntia humifusa

What is the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus?


A cluster of cacti
Special boardwalks permit visitors to view the eastern prickly pear cactus from a safe distance.
© Parks Canada / D. A. Wilkes / 06.62.03.05 (34), 1985

The eastern prickly pear cactus is a low-spreading cactus found either in small patches or in large, scattered colonies made up of thousands of stems. The stems, often called pads, are covered with long, sharp spines and tiny barbs that are difficult to see.

The plant's flowers, which range from bright yellow to gold, are one of the summer attractions at Point Pelee National Park of Canada. Although the eastern prickly pear cactus also has a fruit that ripens in the fall, in Ontario, these cacti tended not to reproduce sexually (i.e., through the dispersal of their seeds). Instead, the plant propagates itself by means of its pads, which break off and take root in nearby soil.

Where is the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus found?

Canadian populations of the eastern prickly pear cactus are limited to extreme southwestern Ontario. The only naturally occurring populations are found in the rare red cedar savannah habitats in the Carolinian Life Zone of Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve on Pelee Island.

Map showing location of the eastern prickly pear cactus in Point Pelee National Park.
In Canada, the eastern prickly pear cactus grows only at the extreme southwestern tip of Ontario.
© Parks Canada

The eastern prickly pear cactus is widespread throughout central and eastern United States.

As with many other cacti species, the eastern prickly pear cactus needs direct sunlight to survive and thrives in the open woodlands, sandy ridges and dunes of the park and reserve.