Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

In Illinois, Brittle Prickly Pear can be distinguished from other Opuntia spp. (Prickly Pears) by its small size and dry bur-like fruits. Like many other cacti, it produces large showy flowers that are short-lived. The detachable pads make this cactus difficult to handle while transplanting as they readily cling to fingers, hands, or gloves, thanks to its barbed spines. In particular, the inconspicuous glochids (fine sharp bristles of the areoles) can embed themselves underneath the surface of the skin and are difficult to remove. So its wise to exercise considerable care while handling this plant. Not only can the pads become detached by the movements of animals or people, even heavy rainfall, blowing snow, or a strong gust wind sometimes dislodge them. Each one of these detached pads has the potential to become another clonal plant, forming low mats of sprawling plants over time.
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Description

This perennial plant is 2-5" (5-12 cm.) tall, eventually forming sprawling mats of cactus pads. An individual plant typically consists of 2-6 pads (modified fleshy stem-segments) that form either branched or unbranched chains (usually the former). These pads can become detached from each other easily, especially the uppermost and youngest pads. The pads are ascending to widely spreading. Individual pads are 1-2.5" (2.5-6 cm.) long, ½-1" (1.2-2.5 cm.) across, and slightly to moderately flattened; mature pads are ellipsoid, broadly ellipsoid, or obovoid in shape. Pad surfaces are medium green and glabrous; they often shrivel and become wrinkled during the dormant stage of winter, while remaining green. Scattered across the pads in diagonal rows are areoles (air pores) about 2-3 mm. across; they are initially white-woolly. The areoles contain inconspicuous glochids (fine spiny bristles) about 1-2 mm. long that are yellowish or brownish. In addition, clusters of 2-6 divergent spines develop from the areoles. These spines are ¼-1¼" (5-30 mm.) long, light gray or brown, straight, terete, and barbed at their tips. With age, some of the spines become detached from the pads. On young developing pads, scale-like leaves develop near the areoles that are 1-3 mm. long, green to reddish green, and lanceolate in shape; they are early-deciduous. While most plants fail to bloom during a given year, usually a small minority of plants in a colony will produce 1-2 flowers each. Each flower is about 1½-2" (4-5 cm.) across when it is fully open, consisting of several rounded yellow tepals, numerous stamens, and a pistil with a single slender style. Sometimes the inner tepals are reddish or greenish at their bases. The filaments of the stamens are yellow or reddish brown, while their anthers are yellow. The style is whitish yellow with a cluster of 4-10 green stigmata at its tip. For a colony of plants, the blooming period occurs during mid-summer for about 1-2 weeks; each diurnal flower lasts only a single day. Sometimes there is a slight floral fragrance. Most flowers fail to set fruit. Among those that do, their fruits are ½-¾" (12-20 mm.) long and ovoid in shape. Immature fruits are green to reddish green, while mature fruits are tan to brown and bur-like in appearance. Like the pads, the fruits have areoles with glochids and barbed spines; the spines are more common toward the apex of each fruit. The interior of mature fruits is dry and seedy. These fruits are easily detached from their pads. Individual seeds are 4-6 mm. across, bone-colored to grayish brown, and hairless; they are rather chunky and irregular in shape. The root system is shallow and fibrous. This plant can reproduce vegetatively whenever detached pads have contact with the ground surface, as they will form new roots. This is the primary method of reproduction. It is not uncommon for little-disturbed plants to form sprawling colonies at favorable sites.
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Distribution

Range

Opuntia fragilis occurs from the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario southward to the southwestern USA states. This species is the taxon of the farthest north occurrence of any member of the cactaceae family, having observations recorded as far north as 58 degrees northern latitude. Northern occurrences include the Peace River area of British Columbia eastward to western Manitoba and Ontario. USA occurrences include the state of Washington eastward to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and south to New Mexico, Arizona and California.

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Range Description

The species occurs in Canada in British Columbia, to W. Manitoba; near Kaladar, Ontario. In the United States, it can be found in Washington, Colorado, Utah, Michigan, Illinois, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. It grows at altitudes between sea level and 2,400 m asl.
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Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Brittle Prickly Pear is found in only the NW corner of Illinois, where it is rare and state-listed as 'endangered.' Illinois lies along the eastern range-limit of this cactus; it is more common in areas further to the west, especially in the northern plains region of the United States. In Illinois, Brittle Prickly Pear occurs on a dry sand prairie of an abandoned army base that is in the process of being restored. Outside of the state, this cactus can be found in open grassy prairies, sandy hills, and rocky outcrops containing granite, limestone, or quartzite. In Illinois, this cactus is found in a higher quality natural area, while toward the center of its range, it sometimes occurs in disturbed areas (e.g., cattle pastures).
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: British Columbia, to W. Manitoba; near Kaladar, Ontario; Washington, Michigan, Illinois, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Dakotas.

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More info for the term: cactus

Brittle pricklypear is widely distributed across North America. It occurs from
Ontario south to Texas and west to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and
California. Brittle pricklypear is rare in Ontario, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan,
Washington, and Wisconsin [39,77], and extremely rare
or possibly extirpated in California [17,39].
Brittle pricklypear is found further north than any other cactus species in the
world, growing in northern Alberta only 4o south of the Arctic Circle [9]. The Flora of North America provides a distribution map of brittle pricklypear. Plants database
provides state distributional maps of its varieties.

Varieties: Pygmy pricklypear occurs throughout the general range of brittle
pricklypear. Little pricklypear occurs in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona,
and Utah [39].

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States or Provinces

(key to state/province abbreviations)


UNITED STATES

AZCACOIDILIAKSMIMNMT
NENVNMNDOKORSDTXUTWA
WIWY



CANADA

ABBCMBONSK

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

More info on this topic.

This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [11]:

6 Upper Basin and Range

7 Lower Basin and Range

8 Northern Rocky Mountains

9 Middle Rocky Mountains

10 Wyoming Basin

11 Southern Rocky Mountains

12 Colorado Plateau

13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont

14 Great Plains

15 Black Hills Uplift

16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

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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.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the term: cactus

This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology,
and is not meant for identification. Several florae provide keys for identifying
brittle pricklypear [9,32,45,50,80].

Brittle pricklypear is a perennial
native mat- or clump-forming cactus, usually 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) tall. The
clumps or mats often exceed 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The succulent stem
segments, or pads, are 0.5 to 5 inches (1.2-2.5 cm) wide and range in length
from 0.8 to 2 inches (2-5 cm) for pygmy pricklypear and 2
to 2.8 inches (5-7cm) for little pricklypear. Aereoles
on the pads give rise to 2 to 7 barbed spines that are 0.5 to 0.8 inch (1.2-2
cm) long for pygmy pricklypear and 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2-3) cm long for little
pricklypear. Flowers are solitary, 1.2 to 2 inches (3-5 cm) long and broad.
The fruit is a pear-shaped berry, 0.6 to 0.8 inch (1.5-2 cm) long, and is
usually spiny. The seeds are glabrous, flattened, oblong to subcircular,
and 0.2 inch (5 mm) in diameter. The root system is shallow and fibrous
[9,21,50,68].
Brittle pricklypear is extremely tolerant of drought. It avoids drought damage
by accumulating water in storage cells that contain mucilaginous materials with
a strong water-retaining capacity [37].

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Description

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.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Cactus fragilis Nuttall, Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 1: 296. 1818; Opuntia brachyarthra Engelmann & J. M. Bigelow; O. fragilis var. brachyarthra (Engelmann & J. M. Bigelow) J. M. Coulter
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The species occurs in sandy, gravelly, or rocky soils of valleys, low hills, or mountainsides. It has been recorded on outcrops of granite, quartzite and basalt. It grows in Ponderosa Pine, juniper, and pinyon woodlands, temperate grasslands, sage scrub and also out in barren rocky areas. It flowers infrequently.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Brittle Prickly Pear is found in only the NW corner of Illinois, where it is rare and state-listed as 'endangered.' Illinois lies along the eastern range-limit of this cactus; it is more common in areas further to the west, especially in the northern plains region of the United States. In Illinois, Brittle Prickly Pear occurs on a dry sand prairie of an abandoned army base that is in the process of being restored. Outside of the state, this cactus can be found in open grassy prairies, sandy hills, and rocky outcrops containing granite, limestone, or quartzite. In Illinois, this cactus is found in a higher quality natural area, while toward the center of its range, it sometimes occurs in disturbed areas (e.g., cattle pastures).
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Comments: Sandy, gravelly, or rocky soils of valleys, low hills, or mountainsides mostly in the desert, plains.

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Habitat characteristics

More info for the terms: cacti, cactus, xeric

Brittle pricklypear can flourish on a great range of sites. It is found at elevations ranging from sea level to
11,089 feet (3,380 m), will grow well on various types of soils under a wide
range of moisture regimes, and can survive extremes of both hot and cold
temperatures [9,48,80].

Brittle pricklypear is perhaps the most cold tolerant of all the cacti
species, being able to survive on sites where the minimum winter temperatures
can drop below -58 oF (-50 oC). The cactus avoids freeze
damage by rapidly reducing the water content in cells during cold acclimation.
The short stature of the plants allows brittle pricklypear to take advantage of
the insulating effects of snow and the thermal environment at the soil surface.
Brittle pricklypear also is able to withstand temperatures in excess of 131 oF
(55 oC) [37,48].
Brittle pricklypear is most commonly found on rocky, sandy or gravely soils,
but can also flourish on silty, loamy, or clayey soils. It is tolerant of
salt-affected, alkaline, and solodized (dealkalized) soils [9,80,81]. 

The moisture regimes at which brittle pricklypear can be found are quite
varied. For example, in British Columbia, brittle pricklypear occurs on
sites ranging from very xeric to hygric [42].
The following table lists reported elevational ranges for brittle
pricklypear:

State or provinceElevation
AZ6,500 to 7,500 feet (1,981-2,286 m) [40]
CO4,500 to 7,500 feet (1,372-2,286 m) [28]
NM4,500 to 8,000 feet (1,372-2,438 m) [50]
UT4,495 to 8,415 feet (1,370-2,565 m) [80]
WA14 to 4,500 feet (4-1,372 m) [77]
BC738 to 11,089 feet (225-3,380) [42]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the term: shrub

Brittle pricklypear occurs in a variety of desert, grassland, prairie, and
woodland communities. It occurs as a community associate and not a dominant
species [9]. Brief descriptions of the common dominants and associates
are presented below. More detailed descriptions of plant communities where brittle
pricklypear occurs are available in the publications listed at the end of this
section.

Brittle pricklypear is commonly found in upland grasslands dominated
by various bunchgrasses including blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis),
buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa
secunda), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii),
and green needlegrass (Nassella viridula) [31,46,55,72,81].
In tallgrass prairies dominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), brittle pricklypear
occurs but is an uncommon associate [30,81].
Brittle pricklypear is a common associate in a wide variety of habitat
types dominated by big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and silver
sagebrush (A. cana). It also occurs as an associate in various
shrub communities including those dominated by greasewood (Sarcobatus
vermiculatus), shadscale saltbush (Atriplex confertifolia), and
blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) [14,31,49,72].
In the Sandhills region of Colorado and Nebraska, brittle pricklypear is commonly
found in communities dominated by sand sagebrush (Artemisia
filifolia), prairie sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia), sand
bluestem (Andropogon gerardii var. paucipilus), hairy grama (Bouteloua
hirsuta), and sandhill muhly (Muhlenbergia pungens) [58,62].
Brittle pricklypear occurs in various woodland communities, notably dry ponderosa pine
(Pinus ponderosa) communities,
dry ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) habitat types, pinyon-juniper (P.
edulis-Juniperus spp.) woodlands and Gambel oak (Quercus
gambelii) thickets [1,51,77,79,80].

Publications that discuss plant communities in which brittle pricklypear
occurs are listed below. The list is neither restrictive nor all
inclusive.
AZ [13,49]

CA [13]

CO [13,51,58]

ID [18]

MT [1,14,55]

ND [31]

NE [62]

NM [13]

NV [13]

ON [72]

SD [30,81]

SK [33]

TX [13]

UT [13,27]

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Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

More info for the terms: cover, shrub

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [65]:

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass

102 Idaho fescue

104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue

109 Ponderosa pine shrubland

110 Ponderosa pine-grassland

212 Blackbush

301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama

302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass

303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass

304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass

309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass

310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama

311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass

314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass

401 Basin big sagebrush

402 Mountain big sagebrush

403 Wyoming big sagebrush

404 Threetip sagebrush

405 Black sagebrush

406 Low sagebrush

408 Other sagebrush types

412 Juniper-pinyon woodland

414 Salt desert shrub

415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany

416 True mountain-mahogany

417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany

501 Saltbush-greasewood

502 Grama-galleta

504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland

505 Grama-tobosa shrub

601 Bluestem prairie

602 Bluestem-prairie sandreed

603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass

604 Bluestem-grama prairie

605 Sandsage prairie

606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass

607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass

609 Wheatgrass-grama

610 Wheatgrass

611 Blue grama-buffalo grass

612 Sagebrush-grass

613 Fescue grassland

614 Crested wheatgrass

615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama

701 Alkali sacaton-tobosagrass

702 Black grama-alkali sacaton

703 Black grama-sideoats grama

704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass

705 Blue grama-galleta

706 Blue grama-sideoats grama

707 Blue grama-sideoats grama-black grama

708 Bluestem-dropseed

709 Bluestem-grama

710 Bluestem prairie

711 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie

712 Galleta-alkali sacaton

713 Grama-muhly-threeawn

714 Grama-bluestem

715 Grama-buffalo grass

716 Grama-feathergrass

717 Little bluestem-Indiangrass-Texas wintergrass

718 Mesquite-grama

720 Sand bluestem-little bluestem (dunes)

721 Sand bluestem-little bluestem (plains)

722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie

724 Sideoats grama-New Mexico feathergrass-winterfat

727 Mesquite-buffalo grass

729 Mesquite

733 Juniper-oak

734 Mesquite-oak

735 Sideoats grama-sumac-juniper

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

More info for the term: cover

SAF COVER TYPES [20]:

42 Bur Oak

68 Mesquite

220 Rocky Mountain juniper

236 Bur oak

237 Interior ponderosa pine

239 Pinyon-juniper

242 Mesquite

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Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

More info for the term: shrub

KUCHLER [44] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:

K010 Ponderosa shrub forest

K011 Western ponderosa pine forest

K016 Eastern ponderosa forest

K017 Black Hills pine forest

K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest

K019 Arizona pine forest

K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland

K024 Juniper steppe woodland

K031 Oak-juniper woodland

K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub

K038 Great Basin sagebrush

K039 Blackbrush

K040 Saltbush-greasewood

K053 Grama-galleta steppe

K055 Sagebrush steppe

K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe

K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe

K063 Foothills prairie

K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass

K065 Grama-buffalo grass

K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass

K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass

K069 Bluestem-grama prairie

K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie

K074 Bluestem prairie

K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie

K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100

K085 Mesquite-buffalo grass

K086 Juniper-oak savanna

K087 Mesquite-oak savanna

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

ECOSYSTEMS [24]:

FRES21 Ponderosa pine

FRES29 Sagebrush

FRES30 Desert shrub

FRES32 Texas savanna

FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe

FRES35 Pinyon-juniper

FRES36 Mountain grasslands

FRES38 Plains grasslands

FRES39 Prairie

FRES40 Desert grasslands

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Barren areas in grasslands, woodlands, sandy or gravelly soils, on outcrops of granite, limestone, or quartzite; 0-2400m.
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Associations

Faunal Associations

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily bees, including Halictid bees. Insects that feed destructively on Brittle Prickly Pear and other Opuntia spp. include the Coreid bug, Chelinidea vittiger, which sucks juices from the cactus pads and fruits; the stink bugs, Chlorochroa uhleri and Chlorochroa persimilis, which also suck juices from the cactus pads and fruits; larvae of the Syrphid fly, Copestylum vittatum, which bore into the cactus pads; and larvae of the Pyralid moths, Melitara dentata and Melitara prodenialis, which also bore into the cactus pads. The sharp spines and bristly glochids provide the cactus pads and fruits with some protection from browsing by vertebrate herbivores. Nonetheless, in some areas the Brittle Prickly Pear is eaten by the Plains Pocket Gopher, and its seeds are an important source of food for the Harris Ground Squirrel and many species of birds (Ribbens, 2007). Among cacti, the Brittle Prickly Pear is unusual in having individual pads and fruits that are designed to attach themselves to the fur of mammals, such as the American Bison; they also become attached to the clothing and skin of humans. By such means, new clonal plants and seeds can be transported across long distances.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Over 100 EO's (Benson 1982).

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General Ecology

It is extremely cold tolerant, growing in Canada almost to the arctic circle (Weniger 1970). Species is fire adapted sprouting from root crown and layering from pads bureied in substrate protected from fire (Taylor, 2005).

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Fire Management Considerations

More info for the terms: fire exclusion, fire frequency, frequency

Repeated fires can greatly reduce populations of Opuntia species. High fire frequency may eliminate
brittle pricklypears from a site for many years until new plants
reestablish from seeds or pads carried onto the site by birds or mammals [9,70].

In Washington, brittle pricklypear habitat has been greatly reduced due to
development and forest expansion resulting from fire exclusion [77].

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Plant Response to Fire

More info for the term: root crown

Following mortality of aboveground tissues, brittle pricklypear grows new pads
from buds in the root crown. New plants also develop from surviving pads
that readily grow new roots whether the pads are detached or still attached to
the parent plant [70].

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Immediate Effect of Fire

More info for the terms: high-severity fire, litter, low-severity fire, moderate-severity fire

The aboveground parts of brittle pricklypear are readily killed by even
low-severity fire. Some fleshy pads may survive low- to moderate-severity fire when
they are partially covered by litter or sheltered within a
clump of stems. High-severity fire usually kills the entire plant [10,70].

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the term: root crown

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [67]:

Surface rhizome/chamaephytic root crown in organic mantle or on soil surface

Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)

Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)

Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)

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Fire Ecology

More info for the terms: fire tolerant, layering, litter, root crown

Fire adaptations:

Thomas [70] lists brittle pricklypear as fire tolerant. Brittle pricklypear is adapted to
survive fire by sprouting from the root crown, by layering from old pads that
were buried and protected in the litter layer, and by new seedling
establishment [69,70].

FIRE REGIMES:
Brittle pricklypear occurs in plant communities with a wide range of fire
frequencies, from less than 10 years for many prairie and grassland communities,
to the 400 years possible for the Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis)
community. As of this writing (2005), fire ecology studies are lacking for brittle pricklypear.
The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities
and ecosystems where brittle pricklypear occurs. For further information, see
the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or EcosystemDominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
bluestem prairieAndropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium 43,56]
Nebraska sandhills prairieAndropogon gerardii var. paucipilus-Schizachyrium scoparium <10
bluestem-Sacahuista prairieAndropogon littoralis-Spartina spartinae <10 [56]
silver sagebrush steppeArtemisia cana 5-45 [29,57,83]
sagebrush steppeArtemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [56]
basin big sagebrushArtemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [61]
mountain big sagebrushArtemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [4,16,54]
Wyoming big sagebrushArtemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [74,84]
saltbush-greasewoodAtriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus 56]
desert grasslandsBouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 10 to <100 [52,56]
plains grasslandsBouteloua spp. <35 [56,83]
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrassBouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii <35 [56,60,83]
blue grama-buffalo grassBouteloua gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides <35 [56,83]
grama-galleta steppeBouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii <35 to <100
blue grama-tobosa prairieBouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis mutica 56]
blackbrushColeogyne ramosissima <35 to <100
Rocky Mountain juniperJuniperus scopulorum <35 [56]
wheatgrass plains grasslandsPascopyrum smithii <5-47+ [56,57,83]
pinyon-juniperPinus-Juniperus spp. <35 [56]
Colorado pinyonPinus edulis 10-400+ [22,26,41,56]
interior ponderosa pine*Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [3,6,47]
Arizona pinePinus ponderosa var. arizonica 2-15 [6,19,64]
mesquiteProsopis glandulosa <35 to <100 [52,56]
mesquite-buffalo grassProsopis glandulosa-Buchloe dactyloides <35
Texas savannaProsopis glandulosa var. glandulosa <10 [56]
mountain grasslandsPseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (µ=10) [2,3]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest)Quercus-Juniperus spp. <35 to <200 [56]
blackland prairieSchizachyrium scoparium-Nassella leucotricha <10
Fayette prairieSchizachyrium scoparium-Buchloe dactyloides <10 [75]
little bluestem-grama prairieSchizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp. <35 [56]

*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: forbs, lichens, shrubs, succession

Brittle pricklypear is often an early seral species and is shade intolerant. It may persist well
on shallow soils of low fertility where other plants are sparse, but may decrease on more fertile sites as
taller vegetation becomes established [48,77]. In a study of rock outcrop
succession in boreal Manitoba, brittle pricklypear was the 1st of the
stress-tolerant perennials to occupy rock outcrops. The successional sequence
was: 1) lichens (Parmelia and Cladonia spp.), 2) moss (Grimmia
and Hedwigia spp.) mats, 3) vascular annuals, 4) short-lived perennial
forbs 5) stress-tolerant, long-lived perennial forbs, 6) deep-rooted perennial grasses, and
7) trees and shrubs. Brittle pricklypear did not persist past stage 4 [23].

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Regeneration Processes

More info for the terms: layering, monoecious

Brittle pricklypear reproduces by seeds, layering, and sprouting from detached stem
segments [68].

Breeding system:
Brittle pricklypear is monoecious [9].
Pollination:
Brittle pricklypear is pollinated by insects [9].
Seed production:
Brittle pricklypear does not dependably flower every year in its northerly
range, thus limiting seed production in these areas [9,48,79].
Seed dispersal:
Seeds of brittle pricklypear are primarily spread when the fruits are eaten by frugivorous birds
and small mammals. Fruits also readily attach to the fur and feathers of animals
[8,68].



Seed banking:
No information is available on this topic.
Germination:
Germination rate is reportedly low for seeds of Opuntia species [71].



Seedling establishment/growth:
Although the literature reports that brittle pricklypear regenerates by seeds
[9], information is lacking on the specifics of seedling establishment and
growth.
Asexual regeneration:
Asexual reproduction occurs from detached pads which readily root even in the absence of
water. The pads are primarily dispersed by attaching to animals by the
barbed spines. The pads are also dispersed by gravity and by floating in water
during heavy rains or snow melt. In the northerly range of brittle pricklypear, flowering can be
rare and the plant may depend wholly on vegetative reproduction [9,48].

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: hemicryptophyte, stem succulent

RAUNKIAER [59] LIFE FORM:

Hemicryptophyte
Stem succulent

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Life Form

More info for the term: cactus

Cactus

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

Brittle pricklypear flowers from May at low elevations to July at high
elevations. Fruits mature 2 to 3 months after flowering and many persist
until the following spring [9,25,50].

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Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering summer (late Jun-early Jul).
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Reproduction

This Opuntia mainly reproduces asexually by detachment of its stems or cladode. In O.fragilis terminal stem segments break off easily from the parent plant and and take-root producing clonal individuals (Rebman and Pinkava 2001). This species is also believed to be dispersed by bison (Valiente-Banuet and Godinez-Alvarez 2002).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Opuntia fragilis

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Opuntia fragilis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Pinkava, D.J., Puente, R. & Baker, M.

Reviewer/s
Goettsch, B.K. & Superina, M.

Contributor/s

Justification
Opuntia fragilis is a very widespread species and although scattered, it is locally common with no significant threats. It is therefore listed as Least Concern.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure

Reasons: Widespread throughout the mid-west and western United States.

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Brittle pricklypear is state listed as protected in Nevada [73], threatened in
Iowa and Wisconsin [36,82], and endangered in Illinois and Michigan [35,53].
Little pricklypear is listed as threatened in Iowa, protected in Nevada, and
protected from salvage in Arizona. Pygmy pricklypear is listed as threatened in
Iowa, protected in Nevada, and protected from salvage in Arizona [73].

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Population

Population
The species covers a wide area but subpopulations are very scattered and it can be locally common. It is an inconspicuous species.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Given the wide range of this species in largely uninhabited areas there are no significant threats to this species.
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Comments: Most cacti subject to horticultural collecting.

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This cactus occurs in many protected areas across its range, including Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
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Management considerations

More info for the terms: cactus, cover

Brittle pricklypear may increase in response to heavy grazing. In a Sandberg
bluegrass grassland in southern British Columbia, brittle pricklypear was the
dominant herbaceous cover species in heavily grazed pastures [72].
However, researchers are not sure if brittle pricklypear populations respond to
a reduction in the preferred forage species or if grazing animals simply aid
brittle pricklypear's spread and establishment by transporting the pads on their bodies
[12].

Brittle pricklypear is susceptible to damage by several insects including
the cochineal scale, the cactus bug, and several species of cactus
borers [8,15,76].

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is full sun, dry conditions, and open barren ground that is rocky, gravelly, or sandy. However, this cactus will adapt to ordinary garden soil if other plants are kept away from it. Under these conditions, it is not difficult to cultivate, however flowers and fruits are uncommonly produced in most geographical areas where this cactus occurs. This dwarf cactus is a good candidate for a sunny rock garden. It is the most winter-hardy cactus in North America.
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Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

Brittle pricklypear has been recommended as a native species for roadside
recovery plantings in shrublands of Nevada [66].

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

Stems, fruits, and seeds of brittle pricklypear may comprise an appreciable
portion of the diet of at least 44 species of birds and mammals [8]. For
example, a study near Flagstaff, Arizona, showed that brittle pricklypear and
twist-spine pricklypear (Opuntia macrorhiza) were major food
items for Botta's pocket gophers in winter and spring. Although use was less, the
pocket gophers also consistently grazed pricklypears in summer and fall [7]. The
pads of Opuntia species can be used as emergency forage for livestock
after the spines have been singed off [34].

Brittle pricklypear provides food
for cactus-feeding insects including moths, bugs, and beetles. For a list of
insect species that graze brittle pricklypear, see [8,15,76].

Palatability/nutritional value:
Brittle pricklypear is low in nutritional value for livestock [34].
Cover value:
No information is available on this topic.

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Other uses and values

Humans eat the stems, fruits, and seeds of brittle pricklypear. The stems are
usually roasted and peeled before being eaten. Fruits are eaten raw, dried
or cooked and are often used to make jellies. Native Americans used the
mucilaginous juice from the stems as a fixing agent for paints [68].
Seeds are roasted and ground into flour [8]. Brittle pricklypear has
been used medicinally to sooth sore throats and relieve skin
irritations [39].

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Wikipedia

Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis, known by the common names brittle prickly pear and little prickly pear, is a prickly pear cactus native to much of North America. It occurs in several Canadian provinces. It is known from farther north than any other cactus,[1] occurring at as close as 8°south of the Arctic Circle, (58°N latitude) in Alberta.[2] There is an isolated and possibly genetically unique population in Eastern Ontario known as the "Kaladar Cactus".[3]

Description[edit]

Brittle Prickly Pear is a small decumbent cactus that grows to a maximum height of 10 centimeters (4 in).[4] Both the common and scientific names refer to the easily detached stem segments. This is known to be a means of plant dispersal.[4]

Opuntia fragilis is a small, prostrate plant, rarely more than 4 inches high: joints tumid, fragile, easily detached, oval, elliptical, or subglobose, 1-2 in. long and nearly as thick as broad, bright green: areoles ¼-½ in. apart, with whitish wool and a few white to yellow bristles, which are much longer and more abundant on older joints; spines 1-4, occasionally a few small additional ones, weak, dark brown, the upper one usually longer and stronger than the others, rarely an inch in length: flowers greenish yellow, 1-1¼ inches wide: fruit ovate to subglobose. with few spines or bristles, mostly sterile, an inch or less long; seeds few and large. Rocky Mountain region from Canada to New Mexico.[5]

Subspecies and varieties[edit]

  • Var. brachyarthra, Coult. A plant with more swollen joints, more numerous and stronger spines, smaller flowers and more spiny fruit Colorado, New Mexico.
  • Var. caespitosa, Hort. Joints bright green, smaller and more crowded than in the type: flowers bright yellow. Colorado.
  • Var. tuberiformis, Hort. Joints olive-green, bulbous-looking. Colorado.

References[edit]

  1. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Cactus. Topic ed. Arthur Dawson. Ed.-in-chief Cutler J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  2. ^ US Forest Service
  3. ^ http://www3.sympatico.ca/lycacti/kaladar.html
  4. ^ a b 32. Opuntia fragilis (Nuttall) Haworth, Flora of North America
  5. ^ Haw.
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Notes

Comments

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.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

The scientific name of brittle pricklypear is Opuntia fragilis
(Nutt.) Haw. (Cactaceae) [9,21,38,39,45,80].

Infrataxa: Based upon differences in distribution and plant size, some systematists recognize 2 varieties
of brittle pricklypear [9,38,39,50,78]:
Opuntia fragilis var. brachyarthra (Engelm. & Bigelow) Coult, little pricklypear

Opuntia fragilis var. fragilis, pygmy pricklypear
Hybrids: Brittle pricklypear hybridizes with plains pricklypear (O. polyacantha) and
grizzlybear pricklypear (O. erinacea) [9].

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Common Names

brittle pricklypear

brittle prickly-pear

fragile pricklypear

little pricklypear

pygmy pricklypear

pygmy-tuna

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