Prickly Pear Cactus: A Sharp Tennessee Native

Prickly Pear Cactus: A Sharp Tennessee Native

When people think of plants native to Tennessee the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) probably doesn’t come immediately to mind. Still it is one of many of the unique plants you can find in our diverse state. This particular cactus was found in Mt. Juliet, TN in cedar glade conditions but you could find it anywhere in the eastern United States. The ground there is very rocky with very little well nourished soil.

In the late spring the prickly pear cactus flowers with bright yellow blooms. The fruit of the prickly pear can be eaten and is common made into jams and jellies. Of course the spines should be removed first!

This is one sharp native. It’s also known as ‘Devil’s Tongue’. I wonder how it got that name?

These sharp protrusions from the pad are really leaves that have developed over the years into extremely sharp spines.

As for propagating cactus…er…I’m not touching this one!

(But you can find some good information at Desert Gardens if you really want to risk bodily injury!)

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Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. I learned to hate prickly pear on my grandparents ranch. It was a rite of passage that every single child must fall into one. Our oldest boy did us proud and fell into a large patch on Deep Creek while working cattle.

  2. I have a neighbor that has a whole yard devoted to these as well as other types of cactus. Her yard is unique and looks like nothing else in the neighborhood. She says it is fairly low maintenance.

  3. It pops up all over our neighborhood…which has cedar glade conditions! It has occasionally surprised when I’ve gotten too close to the spines while gardening!

  4. They look like they got an attitude. I’ll be keeping my non attacking plants. I walked on a cactus once and had to have the barbs cut out. It was awful.

  5. I love this stuff. Propagate? Ha! Cut off a leave and lay it on the ground where you want it to grow and walah! New plant. Mine is coming back-finally and doing well by the road. It is sharp!

  6. My Mom’s Aunt had a huge patch of these in her Greensburg, PA garden.
    It’s always been a favorite of mine, despite the thorns.

  7. I did not know that cactus was native to Tennessee! You have taught me something. Good post.

  8. Wow, how interesting. I don’t think I would touch this cactus either. Yikes! How would you remove all the spikes without hurting yourself? I think I’ll stay away from trying to cook with it. Although it is pretty cool that it does come from our area!

  9. The cactus is very pretty, I have seen big ones around here. I am sure there are no kids in those houses.

  10. I did not know they grew in TN… First ones I ever saw were in Texas and I found out the hard way to not touch the soft looking clumps. OUCH!

  11. I live near Big South Fork National Park in TN. I remember when I was a small child my Father took us to a bluff where his family owned some land just outside of BSF. There where a few cactus on top of the bluff, they were very fascinating to me. I had never forgotten them, since childhood. After I was grown I went overseas in the Military for a while. Once I came back home, I went back there to see the cactus and people had either taken or destoyed them. Recently I went for the weekend to a area outside of murfreesboro, and also to a community called gladville and there are cacti all over these areas the locals there don't seem to exactly like these amazing plants however they don't destroy them. I transplanted a small clump to my front yard it was in May and this week I have some of the most beautiful flowers on them that I have seen since I was 5 or 6 years old. I haven't seen cactus out west I went to basic training in Texas but I never got to see the cacti there. The only other place in TN that I've ever saw them is in a container around a sign at the corner of Hwy 52 and 111 in Livingston TN.

  12. Anonymous,

    The prickly pear in the pictures here lives very close to Gladeville. It's on my in-laws property and was in full bloom with its yellow and red flowers. I should have taken a picture and updated here, I don't know what I was thinking! They are very neat plants. Maybe you can start a few cacti near the park?

  13. You can remove the spines by scorching them off with fire–I'd reccomend gloves if you are going to handle them. If you want to try cactus without much effort you can find them in the Hispanic section of most supermarkets they are called napilitos. Many more authentic Mexican resturants also serve them.


  14. i live in dodson branch area and would love to start some cactus and yucca plants around my yard were is a good place to get some prickly pear or devils tongue and yucca at around here

    1. Unfortunately I don't know of many who sell the prickly pear cactus. Growild or Nashville Natives may. Check out their websites. The yucca grows pretty freely in all kinds of areas. It is easy to grow from seed if you know someone who has it or you could divide it. I have some small Adam's Needle Yucca plants if you are ever visiting the Spring Hill Farmer's Market. Just let me know in advance if you'll be there since I don't bring everything with me each week!

  15. I live In Memphis TN and i planted a few cuttings (from a cacti on my grandmothers land in MS), around the bradford pear tree in my front yard and it looks beautiful. I would add a picture but i dont see the option here.

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