The Pipestone National Monument's Sioux quartzite prairie supports two species of cacti. The rocky outcrops and shallow soil along the cliff line areas provide the Plains Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia macrorhiza) with a niche with little competition for resources. The Prickly Pear cactus blooms for a short time in early July, displaying beautiful and fragile looking yellow flowers.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrorhiza)
Appearance: A clump-forming cactus that reaches 6-14" tall and grows out horizontally. Their pads are round or oval, flattened, and 4-6" long. Each pad is covered in needle-like spines in addition to numerous bristles which can puncture human skin.
Flowers: Bright yellow, 2-3" in diameter, and bloom June-July.
Fruit: Also known as the 'tuna' or a 'cactus apple,' it is red and pulpy, ripening in late summer to fall. It is edible and can be eaten cooked, fresh, dried, or as a jam.
Don't forget the pads! The pads (minues the spines and bristles, of course) are also edible, and can be roasted like a vegetable.
Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia Fragilis)
Appearance: Grows as a sprawling mat that can reach up to 2' across, but typically only grow about 4" tall. The thick, flat pads are about 1-2" in length, easily broken (as the name implies), and covered in spines 1-2" long.
Flowers: 1.5-2" diameter, yellow, not typically robust in their flowering from May-July
Fruit: .5-.75" long, reddish (immature) and brown (mature), spiny, contain large seeds
Not quite as brittle as the name implies: Although the pads do break easily, they also re-root themselves once they're on the ground, helping the cactus to spread. This particular species of prickly pear is also the most tolerant of the cold!
Last updated: February 23, 2019