Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Plant to Ponder: Red-Flowered Prickly Pear

Opuntia aciculata, also called Red-Flowered Prickly Pear and Chenille Prickly Pear, is one of my favorite cacti for the Desert Garden. While many prickly pears have wonderful yellow flowers, this one stands out by bringing forth bright scarlet blossoms at a time of year when there isn't a whole lot of red in the low-water landscape. It eventually grows to about 3 feet tall, usually a bit less, and several feet wide; takes full sun, or the very lightest of filtered shade; and requires little or no water once established.

Opuntia aciculata © Tyler StoreyIts species name, aciculata, derives from the Latin for "needle-like," and the common name "Chenille" refers to the same characteristic: prominent clusters of sharp glochids that dot its surface in an evenly spaced pattern, much like a chenille bedspread. Don't let these scare you away from this plant. All Opuntia have glochids, and the fact that these are large and prominent on O. aciculata not only makes this a wonderful-looking plant, but also makes it a safer plant: you can see them to avoid them, and they are large enough to easily remove if you do get stickered. It's the ones that stand around looking innocent that you have to watch out for.

Use O. aciculata as a low specimen plant, as a medium-textured foreground plant for fine-textured desert trees, for red color following wildflower season, and anywhere you'd like to have a prickly pear that's just a bit different from the everyday varieties.


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