Opuntia fragilis (Nutt.) Haw.
Family: Cactaceae
brittle pricklypear,  more...
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Shrubs, low, forming mats, 2-10 cm. Stem segments easily detached when terminal, dark green, subspheric to subcylindric, to flattened and elliptic obovate, (1.5-)2-5.5 × (1-)1.5-3 cm, low tuberculate (pronounced when dried), glabrous; areoles 3-5 per diagonal row across midstem segment, oval, 3 × 2.5 mm; wool white. Spines 3-8 per areole, in most areoles spreading, gray with brown tips, straight, ± acicular, terete, the longest 8-24 mm; depressed spines at base of areoles 0-3, 1-3 mm. Glochids in crescent at adaxial margin of areole, tan to brown, inconspicuous, to 3 mm. Flowers: inner tepals yellow, sometimes basally red, 20-26 mm; filaments white or red; anthers yellow; style white; stigma lobes green. Fruits tan, 10-30 × 8-15 mm, dry, glabrous; areoles 12-22, distal areoles bearing 1-6 short spines. Seeds tan to gray, flattened, warped, oblong to subcircular, 5-6 mm diam.; girdle protruding 1-1.5 mm. 2n = 66. Flowering summer (late Jun-early Jul). Barren areas in grasslands, woodlands, sandy or gravelly soils, on outcrops of granite, limestone, or quartzite; 0-2400 m; Alta., B.C., Man., Ont., Sask.; Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Ill., Iowa, Kans., Mich. , Minn., Mont., Nebr., N.Mex., N.Dak., Okla., Oreg., S.Dak., Tex., Utah, Wash., Wis., Wyo. Opuntia fragilis is a widespread, though inconspicuous, species; in many places, it flowers infrequently, if at all. Its easily detached stem segments are dispersed by animals and possibly water.

Plant: low, mat-forming shrub, 2-10 cm tall. PADS dark green, glabrous, the terminal ones easily detached, subspheric to cyclindric, to flattened and elliptic obovate, low-tuberculate (becoming pronounced when dried), (1.5-)2-5.5 cm long, (1-)1.5-3 cm broad; AREOLES 3-5 in a row diagonal across midpad, oval, 3 mm long, 2.5 mm wide; wool white Leaves: SPINES in most areoles, gray with brown tips, terete, straight, spreading, 3-8 per areole, the largest to 3.5 cm long. GLOCHIDS inconspicuous, tan to brown, in apical crescent in areole Flowers: inner tepals yellow, sometimes basally red, 2-2.6 cm long; filaments white or red; style white; fresh stigmas green Fruit: FRUITS tan, dry, 1-3 cm long, 0.8-1.5 cm in diameter; areoles 19-21, the uppermost ones bearing 1-6 short spines. SEEDS 5-6 mm in diameter; girdle protruding 1-1.5 mm. Misc: Sandy or gravelly soils or on outcrops of granite or quartzite, barren areas in grasslands, woodlands, forests; 1500-2400 m (4900-7900 ft); May-Jul REFERENCES: Pinkava, Donald J. Cactaceae. 2003. J. Ariz. - Nev. Acad. Sci. Volume 35(2).
Prostrate or spreading, forming dense mats to 5 dm wide; joints orbicular to obovate, very turgid, 2-5 נ1-2.5 cm, easily detached; areoles crowded, commonly 3-6 mm apart, usually coarsely white-woolly, all or nearly all armed with (1-)3-7 strongly barbed spines 1.2-2.5 cm; fls yellow to greenish, 4-5 cm wide; fr fleshy and greenish to reddish when young, dry and tan at maturity, inedible, 1.2-1.5 cm; seeds discoid, with an irregular margin; 2n=66. Dry prairies and plains; Ill. and Wis. and n. Mich. to B.C., n. Tex., and Ariz. May-July.

Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.

©The New York Botanical Garden. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Benson 1982, FNA 2003
Common Name: brittle pricklypear Duration: Perennial Protected Status: Salvage restricted status in Arizona General: Shrubs forming low mats that reach 2-10 cm tall with clumps often 30 cm or more in diameter, the stem segments are easily detached when terminal and the larger terminal joints are bluish-green to dark green and spheric to subspheric while flattened to elliptic, 2-4.5 cm long by 1-4 cm across and 1-2 cm thick, the surface is glabrous with 3-5 areoles per diagonal row across the middle stem segment, they are oval and 3 by 2.5 mm and typically 3-6 mm apart with white wool. Spines: Spines 3-8 per areole and usually present on most of joint but occasionally on none of them, the longest found in the uppermost areoles and 8-24 mm, these usually spreading and gray with brown tips but straight with 0-3 depressed spines at base of areoles and 1-3 mm, the tan to brown glochids are in a crescent at adaxial margin of areole and are inconspicuous to 3 mm. Flowers: Flower 3-4 cm long by 4.5 cm diameter the inner tepals are yellow to greenish but sometimes magenta or occasionally basally red, 20-26 mm cuneate or cuneate-obovate, outer tepals 15-25 mm long by 12-20 mm broad with yellow anthers and a white style. Fruits: Fruits tan at maturity but green or reddish-green prior, 10-30 mm long by 8-15 mm in diameter, they are spiny or spineless, dry and glabrous. Ecology: Found in barren areas in grasslands, woodlands, in sandy or gravelly soils, on outcrops of granite, limestone, or quartzite from 2,000-8,000 ft (610-2438 m), flowers June-July. Notes: Benson 1982 says that O. fragilis is an almost comical miniature version of the prickly pear, with plump little joints, often inconspicuous and growing beneath shrubs for protection. Ethnobotany: A poultice of the flesh was applied to skin sores and infections, and the flesh was eaten to cause urination, a poultice of the heated quills was applied to ease swollen throats. A soup was made of the boiled flesh and fat, or the flesh was pit roasted and eaten. Spines were used to make fish hooks. Etymology: Opuntia from ancient root puncti for prickled, while fragilis means brittle or fragile. Synonyms: Opuntia fragilis var. brachyarthra, Opuntia brachyarthra, Cactus fragilis Editor: LCrumbacher, 2010
Opuntia fragilis image
Max Licher  
Opuntia fragilis image
Max Licher  
Opuntia fragilis image
Max Licher  
Opuntia fragilis image
Mary Barkworth  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
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Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
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Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
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Opuntia fragilis image
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Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
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Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Tony Frates  
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
Opuntia fragilis image
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