What’s Blooming? Prickly Pear

prickly pear in bloom

The yellow flowers of plains prickly pear

During several garden tours recently, I’ve spotted one of the few Minnesota-hardy cacti–Opuntia macrorhiza, which is commonly called plains prickly pear. It’s a native Minnesota wildflower that thrives in rock gardens and other dry sites.

Optunia is a plant you can’t miss in a flower border or bed. It has a strong paddle shape (the paddles are technically stems) and stands about 6 to 12 inches tall. It’s green and covered with prominent, very sharp looking thorns, which are technically the leaves.

In early summer, plains prickly pear blooms with stunning yellow flowers, each about 3 inches across, a bright lemon color. The plants must be blooming later this year (as are so many plants) because I’ve seen several in full bloom over the past couple of weeks. Later, a red fruit appears. In fall, the plant pulls water out of its pads, which then flop to the ground.

This is one of three Optunia cacti that are native to Minnesota. Hardy to USDA Zone 3, these cacti would be a conversation starter in any northern garden.

—Mary Lahr Schier

patch of prickly pear

Plains prickly pear is a favorite among northern rock gardeners.