Selected Plants of Navajo Rangelands

Take care of our Navajo Rangelands

Prickly pear
Hoshniteelí
(a.k.a. Plains prickly pear, Opuntia phaeacantha)

Prickly pear spines can be several inches long, as on this specimen of Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha!

Prickly pears produce familiar pink-red fruits and pads, both very thorny. These plants provide shelter for wildlife, but may become invasive on rangelands because livestock do not find them highly palatable.

The plants are mainly 1 to 2 feet tall and can spread into wide colonies by layering and sprouting from fallen segments. The flowers are large, with numerous yellow, and sometimes pink or violet petals. Prickly pear may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. It is often a problem on overgrazed rangeland. The spines of prickly pear make it and other desirable vegetation growing underneath unavailable to livestock. However, it is palatable to livestock once the spines are removed.

Species that grow in or near Navajo rangelands include:

  • Opuntia polyacantha, the plains prickly pear, which provides protection and cover for small wildlife.
  • Opuntia chlorotica, pancake prickly pear or clockface prickly pear, which has a trunk like a tree.
  • Opuntia engelmannii, Englemann prickly pear, which has larger paddles than other species.
  • Opuntia macrocentra, purple prickly pear.
  • Opuntia phaeacantha, brown-spined prickly pear, which grows in a sprawling formation along the ground.
  • Opuntia pottsii, Pott's prickly pear, whose fruits appear elongated compared to other species.

Growth habit of Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha close to the ground in a tangle of grasses
A "stand" of prickly pears in an otherwise fairly barren landscape
A young Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha with long spines, new leaves, a yellow flower, and two forming fruits
Showy yellow flower of Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha
Showy yellow flower of Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha
Growth habit of Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha showing upreaching new growth, fruits, and a flower
Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacanthaleaves with a bumpy surface where spines are forming. Two fruits are forming on one edge of the paddle.
Side view of spiny cactus with flat pads, yellow flower and orange flower bud growing among smooth rocks.
Top view of spiny cactus with flat pads, yellow flower and orange flower bud growing among smooth rocks.

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