July 5, 2022

This is Steve Rulison bringing you information on Shore friendly living and gardening from the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners and Virginia Cooperative Extension.  From my perch near the mouth of Occohannock Creek, I recorded 1.4 inches of rain last week.

Did you know that Virginia has a native cactus? Opuntia humifusa, or Eastern Prickly-pear, is a striking plant with beautiful, showy flowers. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern and middle states, which means you can grow it as an evergreen perennial here in Virginia!.

This species is a typical cactus with a photosynthetic stem that acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water. The Eastern Prickly-pear likes full sun and dry, sandy soil. It grows 1-2½ feet and is evergreen with 1–3 levels of flattened pads. Each pad is up to 10 inches long, 7 inches across, and 1½ inches thick. Generally, the plants are no more than 19 inches high and tend to sprawl on the ground.

Yellow buds, one or more, can form on the top of a pad and each produces a single satiny yellow flower about 3–4 inches across, followed by a pear-like fruit in late spring to mid-summer. The flesh of the reddish fruit is edible – but not usually very sweet. 

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This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often on calcareous rock or thin soils. It can be found in or on fence-rows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes, and prairie. The roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary.

For answers to Gardening questions and more, call your local Accomack or Northampton County Extension Office. Here on the Shore call either 678-7946 or 787-1361.


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