Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide

Prickly Pear: Opuntia humifusa

Weed Description:  A prostrate perennial cactus that is native to Virginia and most of the United States.  Prickly pear has many pads (called cladodes) with tufts of needle-like spines.
Leaves:  No true leaves are present.
Roots:  A thick rootstock.   Also, pads are able to root and in this manner facilitate the spread of this species.
Stems: Each 'pad' (or cladode) is a stem that is succulent, thick, and contains many individual spines.  Upon closer examination, you can see that some of the spines (less than 1/2 inch long) actually consists of many very small 'needles' that can very easily stick in skin, clothing, fur, etc.  Pads also contain some spines that are approximately 1 inch long that do not divide in this manner.  Pads that become detached from the parent plant have the ability to root and form new plants in almost any location.
Fruit: A capsule that is cone-shaped and widest at the top, tapering to the base.  Individual fruit are approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, fleshy, and turn red to maroon with maturity.
Flowers: Bright yellow in color, 2 to 3 inches wide, sometimes with a reddish center.
  Identifying Characteristics:  A low-growing cactus with showy yellow flowers and cladodes that have many individual prickles that consist of tufts of needle-like spines.  Many prickly pear species occur in the western United States, however Opuntia humifusa is the only species that is native to Virginia.