Plant of the Month

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You don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy color from this beautiful cactus. Colors of the fleshy pads transform from blue-gray to rich purple depending on seasonal temperatures. Yellow flowers in spring just add to the lively palette.

Santa Rita Prickly Pear,
Purple Prickly Pear
Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita

  • Plant Form: Cactus
  • Water Use: Very Low
  • Mature Size: 2-6 ft. tall x 4-6 ft.wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May), Summer (June-Aug)
  • Native to: Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 0°F 

Santa Rita Prickly Pear defies the convention that plants are only showy when they are in bloom. This cactus is colorful year-round. In winter, the fleshy pads attain a rich purple color, lending its other name, Purple Prickly Pear. Warmer weather coaxes out soft blue-gray pads. Spring entices yellow rose-like flowers along the edges of each pad. Tufts of tiny spines dot each pad, and sparse, long spines line the upper edges of the pads. White cottony patches on the pads may appear if affected by cochineal scale, an insect that sucks juice from the cactus and covers itself with white fluff for protection. Easily removed with a strong spray from a garden hose, these insects were the source of purple fabric dye for royalty in times past, and are used today to color food and cosmetics (check for “carmine” in the ingredients). This beautiful cactus is used in succulent and rock gardens, as a barrier or accent, and in containers. Santa Rita Prickly Pear makes a great gift plant, as pads root easily in loose, well-draining soil.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for May