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E-Garden Almanac: A Plant to Thrive: Opuntia humifusa

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Plant to Thrive: Opuntia humifusa

These days I become more and more adament about our need to garden with plants that will thrive, not simply survive. My love for natives resonates with such a commitment but I'm far from a purist.

But I've got one native this summer that's blowing my socks off. It's our native Eastern prickly pear cactus, found on the slopes of the Loess Hills in the western burrough of the state. My clump came from my aunt who has tended a small colony at back of her house for as long as I've been alive. It's garnered near weed status in her garden, hence the gift to me several years back when I expressed interest in growing a few myself. I was elated. A cactus that was perfectly hardy outdoors! As it turns there are a number of Opuntias that are hardy including O. fragilis and O. polyacantha. I'm growing all three now.
But it's the Eastern prickly pear cactus that has caught my favor, especially this summer when the clump has matured to a half dozen or more pads. Each is loaded with 3-5 buds and open with the sun each morning. Our form is reminiscent of lemon meringue, a clear glistening yellow that glows in the early evening just as the flowers begin to close. I'll shut up and let the photo say the rest. Now run out at find some! Despite it's marvelous qualities, this cactus is relatively sparse in the trade, not at all unlike most natives I suppose. But here are a few sources that I've found:


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