Monday, February 6, 2012

February Cactus

Opuntia microdasys

Opuntia whole plant
What epitomizes February, but the heart shape? And, as a plant nerd, what could be better than a heart-shaped plant? As I strolled through the Matthei Botanical Garden desert house, I came upon this wonderful heart shaped cactus. I immediately took a ton of pictures. How amazing is this plant with three hearts stacked on top of each other? It looks like someone glued them together. It's hard to believe it could grow this way, but here it is. And what is it? An opuntia, or prickly pear cactus. The common name comes from the fact that usually the fruit it produces, is edible. I've never eaten one, nor do I plan to. That doesn't mean it's not edible or good, just that I'm not adventurous when it comes to trying new things. All opuntias have clusters of small, fine, fuzzy looking spines called glochids. This comes from the Latin word glochidium, which means a "barbed hair of a plant".  Always use gloves when re-potting your opuntia. The glochids easily dislodge from the plant and lodge in the skin. The spines are hard to remove because they are barbed, and from personal experience, I can tell you that they are painful. I learned this the hard way from my hardy opuntia outside (Zone 5). Actually, a guest at my daughter's graduation party touched my opuntia and was crying quite uncontrollably. (Obviously, this was a small child.)  I was sure it wasn't from the cactus, it looks so soft and harmless, so of course, I touched it as well. One magnifying glass, tweezers, and many tears later, the spines were out. Ouch! Boy, did I feel bad.  I am very careful not to get anywhere near these plants when working in the garden. This would be a plant not to let the weeds grow through, because that's where the weeds would stay, as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, the one pictured is not hardy here in Michigan, but is good for a very sunny windowsill. It is the Opuntia microdasys, probably the contorta form. Some common names include bunny ears and polka dot cactus. It is native to Arizona and Texas, but opuntias naturally occur from Canada to Southern Argentina.
Opuntia side view

As I've said before, remember to visit your local conservatory. You never know what you will find!


  1. Haha, I somewhere have a picture of that very same cactus!

  2. It looks like that one is crested, a mutation

  3. Or the other mutation.. a "funny bunny"