Opuntia will come back from the dead

If this seems a gruesome way to begin, it’s because of my “undying” admiration of the paddle cactus or prickly pear (Opuntia spp.). Did you know that southern Ontario has a native cactus (in the wild, it’s endangered)? This is the family, if not the one. And we can overwinter it here in Toronto’s USDA Z5/Canadian Z6.

When the snow melts, though, it looks like someone has let all the air out. Deflated, wrinkled, desiccated. Ugly, eh? How could anything that looks like that not be dead?

But it isn’t. It’s just waiting to be revived by spring. It’s fun that way. Kids would love it.

Click on the gallery below to see it gradually come back to life – producing new paddles, flowering, displaying its candle-like fruits, and catching the light with its prickliness. These pictures were all taken in a similar zone to Toronto’s. The bed of flowering Opuntia is in Stratford, and the back-lit group was in Minneapolis (USDA Z4). In fact, there’s one in the rock garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden, if you want a closer look.

And, if you want to give it a try in your garden, as with all native plants, be sure to get it from a reputable, local source.

4 comments

  1. Hi Helen,

    Opuntia sure looks like a dog’s breakfast coming out of winter but, as you mentioned, recovers miraculously.

    For any of your readers considering planting and tending Opuntia, just a gentle note that you must wear thick gloves. The minute fine hairs around the cactus spines are very irritating once embedded. I have a client with 2 patches of Opuntia and it’s always fun weeding in and around the “paddles”, lol…

  2. “Deflated, wrinkled, desiccated. Ugly, eh? How could anything that looks like that not be dead? But it isn’t. It’s just waiting to be revived by spring.”

    Hey, I thought you were talking about me for a minute!

    I love that opuntia are native to places people would never dream of. The power of the cactus!

    1. Now, now, Loree. I won’t allow anything you quoted about yourself except “waiting to be revived by spring”, about which: Ditto. Soon be spring!

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