Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)
Cacti are typically assumed to be confined to the desert; however, this is not true of Opuntia humifusa. The eastern prickly pear cactus is the only native cactus found in the northeast and is highly abundant along the sunny, sandy habitats throughout Gateway. This low growing plant has flattened stems called paddles that contain barbed bristles. In May and June, mature cacti produce yellow, waxy flowers. These flowers then die away and a red juicy edible fruit forms. The spines on the fruit and paddles can be carefully removed from the outer skin and discarded before consumption. The paddles are commonly used in the South in breakfast omelets and the fruit is often used to make candy and jelly and can be added to drinks for a refreshing flavor. Although edible, the gathering or harvesting of any species within NPS sites is not permitted.