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Prickly Pear Cactus

Evergreen – Sun         Ht. 2’-6’ Spread 4’-6’        Spacing 2’-4’

Opuntia spp.

HABIT:   Yellow to red flowers in spring, red to purple edible fruit in fall.


  Flat pads covered with tufts of spines.

USES:    Maintenance free spring flowers.

PROBLEMS:  Spines can be a nuisance.

NOTES: Texas prickly pear is Opuntia lindheimeri. Opuntia imbricata is the native Cholla or Walking Stick.

Cactus pad we found in our garden growing in the shape of a heart. Regards, B. Dollar



Common name: Cochineal, Red Dye Bug

Scientific Name: Order Homoptera, family Dactylopiidae, Dactylopius coccus

Size: Adult female--1/8", adult male--1/2"

Identification: Females and nymphs are found on the pods of prickly pear cacti under the waxy cotton produced by the insects for protection.

Biology and life cycle: Incomplete metamorphosis. Only males develop wings.

Habitat: Desert and arid areas. Prickly pear cacti.

Feeding habits: Juices of cacti, especially prickly pear.

Economic importance: Juice (body fluid or blood) from the bugs is used as a beautiful red dye.

Natural control: None known.

Organic control: None needed.

Insight: Clusters of cochineal bugs often feed side by side, covering large areas of prickly pear like a white furry rug. American Indians used this juice to make a crimson dye. Old drug stores used to sell bottles of cochineal bugs for use as a dye. About 70,000 insects are needed to make a pound of the dye. Cochineal is also used as a food coloring (especially in cake coloring) and permanent dye; it is an ingredient in many beverages, cosmetics, and medicines.

The Insect

Female (left) and male (right) Cochineals.
Female (left) and male (right) Cochineals.

Q:  Do you have a suggestion on how to kill prickly pear cactus?  R.P.

Scraping the cactus into piles, adding some molasses and allowing to break down makes a wonderful compost. Dry or liquid molasses should be used at 2 cups per cubic yard or greater. Keeping the cactus from returning is done by improving the health of the soil with compost, rock minerals and general biodiversity including the establishment of multi-species grasses and forbs.

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