We know most cacti for their spines, which protect the plants from being eaten by animals in arid environments, while also helping to retain moisture.
But they can do harm in a badly-thought-out position in our gardens and homes, especially if you have pets or children.
This is where the spineless cacti shine, those that we’ve managed to cultivate to have nearly no spines at all, such as in the Opuntia genus.
Let’s take a look at everything you should know about Opuntia cacti.
At A Glance: What You Should Know About Opuntia Cacti
Opuntia plants come from the Cactaceae plant family. You might know these plants by other names, such as the prickly pear cactus, the flat cactus, or the paddle cactus.
The genus name comes from the Ancient Greek city of Opus, where it was said that plants safe to eat grew and could be regularly propagated.
You may also know plants under this genus as spineless cacti, but this name can also refer to those under the Lophophora and Astrophytum genera.
This is not strictly true, as these plants will prick you if you make the mistake of touching them.
You can recognize these plants by their pad-like stems which branch outward and are covered in glochids, or barbed bristles.
These plants were originally bred for their thick stems, which would then be used as feed for cattle, without having to remove any spines first.
But these plants aren’t just used as food for animals, as we can also eat them, too.
As these plants have very distinctive stems, they are also used as beautiful ornamental plants across the world. If you live somewhere warm, they can be planted outside for a statement, or, in colder areas, they make a fantastic houseplant.
If you give them the right conditions, these plants will bloom in spring through to summer, in shades of yellow, orange, red, and pink, depending on the cultivar you choose.
Can You Grow Opuntia Cacti In Your Area?
As opuntia plants come from the desert-like regions of Mexico, South America, and the US, they need similar conditions to thrive outside.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them outside for part of the year. Treat them as houseplants and then move them outside for the summer, you’ll just need to make sure you keep these plants away from freezing temperatures and downpours.
It’s worth noting that these plants sometimes need staking if you live in a windy area.
Opuntia Plant Care
Buying established opuntia plants is the easiest way to start with these beautiful cacti. While you can grow them from seed, it takes years for them to develop into decent-sized plants, so bear this in mind.
You can also take stem cuttings from an existing plant if you prefer. You will need to make sure that you don’t try to take cuttings from pads that are 6 months old or younger, as these may not form roots.
Using strong gloves and sterilized secateurs, separate a pad from the plant, and allow a callus to form over the cutting for about a week or so.
Once the wound has healed over, plant it in a commercial cacti mix, or make your own using equal parts of compost and horticultural grit or sand. Place them somewhere warm and bright.
When you see new growth, the new cutting has rooted.
Opuntia cuttings will root better if you give them a little support, by using two stones on either side of the cuttings.
The better you can mimic their native conditions of the desert, the better opuntia cacti will thrive.
No matter if you’re growing them inside or outside, these plants love a lot of light and warmth, so give them as much as possible. They will withstand some cold temperatures, but nothing below 50°F (or 10°C) in winter.
As the stems store all the water the plant needs, they can go for prolonged periods without water, and it’s best to underwater these plants than overwater them.
Don’t water them at all during the winter, and allow them to go dormant.
They like a dry atmosphere, making them perfect for warm homes where other plants struggle without a lot of humidity.
These traits make them very low-maintenance, and they are ideal for people who forget to water their plants regularly, or just don’t have a lot of time to devote to plant care.
Prickly pear cacti are beautiful plants that will make a great addition to any home, thanks to their easy going nature and unusual appearance.
Give them plenty of light and warmth, and don’t water them until the soil has completely dried out.
Always wear gloves or use tongs when handling these plants, however, otherwise, you will be picking out tiny spines from your hands!