Opuntia phaeacantha is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common names Mojave prickly pear and desert prickly pear found across the southwestern United States, lower Great Plains, and northern Mexico. The plant forms dense but localized thickets. Several varieties of this particular species occur, and it also hybridizes easily with other prickly pears, making identification sometimes tricky.

O. phaeacantha has a mounding habit of flattened green pads. The pads are protected by clusters of spines. Each cluster bearing 1-4 spines. The spines are brown, reddish-brown, or gray, and often over 3 cm in length. At the base of the spine cluster is a round tuft of easily detached brown bristles called Glochids. Glochids are also present on the fruit. This is the source for the plant's common name "prickly pear".

The flowers are bright yellow with a pale green center. Some plants produce yellow flowers with an orange-red center. The edible fruits are red or purple with pink seedy flesh. The fruit has a mild watermelon or pear flavor. Both the fruit and the fleshy pads provide an important food resource for desert wildlife.

This plant, like other Opuntia species, is attacked by cactus moth.

Older names for this species, and names for old species which are now considered variants of this species, include plateau prickly pear, brown-spined prickly-pear, Mojave prickly pear, and Kingman prickly pear.

The species is widespread, from California south to Mexico and the Southwest United States. There are multiple variations and perhaps these will be described as varieties or full species some day.

Observations Map

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