Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Opuntia basilaris, Beavertail Pricklypear

Beavertail Pricklypear has large showy pink to magenta flowers and blooms any time from February to June across its 4 varieties. Opuntia basilarisAdding to the beautiful flowers on the Beavertail Pricklypear cactus the anthers are yellowish, the styles white to pink and the filaments are red-magenta (difficult to see in photo). Opuntia basilarisBeavertail Pricklypear is a small cactus that grows up to about 15 inches or so. It has flattened pads with spines lacking or few on one variety. Plants prefer elevations up to 3,000 or more (5,500) depending on the variety. Opuntia basilaris

Scientific Name: Opuntia basilaris
Common Name: Beavertail Pricklypear
Also Called: Beaver Tail Cactus, Beavertail Prickleypear (Spanish: Nopal)
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus Family
Synonyms: ()
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 15 inches or so.
Growth Form: Shrub; clumping, stem (flattened) pads sprawling to ascending or erect, stem segments blue- to yellow-green, sometimes tinged maroon-purple.
Leaves: Spines lacking or few; glochids numerous, yellow to red-brown or dark brown.
Flower Color: Pink to magenta throughout, rarely white; filaments red-magenta (purple); anthers yellowish, style white to pink; fruit spine-less except var. treleasei; seeds yellowish to tan.
Flowering Season: * February to June (* variable per variety).
Elevation: Up to 3,000 or * 5,500 feet (* depending on variety).

Habitat Preferences: Variable depending on variety; slopes, desert flats, hills sandy to rocky soils; woodlands, Mojave an Great Basin deserts; oak-pine woodlands.

Recorded Range: In the United States Opuntia basilaris is found in AZ, CA, NV, UT. It is also found in northern Mexico. In Arizona it is found generally in western parts of the state.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Opuntia basilaris.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.

Threatened/Endangered Information: Arizona: Opuntia basilaris is salvage restricted; Opuntia basilaris var treleasei is a species of conservation concern and in the Center for Plant Conservation's National Collection of Endangered Plants; Opuntia basilaris var longiareolata is a species of conservation concern.

Genus Information: In North America there are 52 species for Opuntia. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 194 accepted species names and a further 203 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 16 species of Opuntia, California and Utah each have 10 species, Nevada has 6 species, New Mexico has 13 species, Texas has 23 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

There are 4 varieties in Opuntia basilaris;
Opuntia basilaris var. basilaris, Beavertail Pricklypear; (AZ, CA, NV, UT)
Opuntia basilaris var. brachyclada, Beavertail Pricklypear; (CA, NV)
Opuntia basilaris var. longiareolata, Beavertail Pricklypear; (AZ)
Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei, Trelease's Beavertail Pricklypear (CA).

Comments: There are 4 varieties of Beavertail Pricklypear and their flower blooming dates, habitats and preferred elevations are extremely variable.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Cactus Apple, Opuntia engelmannii; Long-spined Prickly Pear, Opuntia macrocentra; Twistspine Pricklypear, Opuntia macrorhiza; Tulip Pricklypear, Opuntia phaeacantha and Santa Rita Pricklypear, Opuntia santa-rita.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants: Beavertail Pricklypear, Opuntia basilaris.

Beavertail Pricklypear has been used for food by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Cahuilla Food, Dried Food; Buds cooked and dried for indefinite storage.
  • Cahuilla Food, Porridge; Seeds ground into mush.
  • Cahuilla Food, Unspecified; Buds cooked and eaten.
  • Cahuilla Food, Vegetable; Joints boiled and mixed with other foods or eaten as greens.
  • Diegueno Food, Dried Food; Fruit cleaned of thorns, dried and eaten.
  • Diegueno Other, Cash Crop; Fruit dried and sold by children in small sacks for ten cents.
  • Kawaiisu Food, Unspecified; Buds cooked and eaten.
  • Tubatulabal Food, Unspecified; Species used for food.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    References: Posted 06/05/2015, rev. 07/21/2015, updated, 09/14/2015, updated 07/30/2017, updated 11/21/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search (accessed 07/30/2017).
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 07/30/2017).
    Donald J. PinkavaFNA FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Cactaceae | Opuntia 29. Opuntia basilaris Engelmann & J. M. Bigelow, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts. 3: 298. 1856.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 07/30/2017]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    Donald J. Pinkava Vascular Plants of Arizona: Cactaceae Part Six: Opuntia - JANAS 35(2): 137-150. 2003.
    Bruce D. Parfitt 2017. Opuntia basilaris, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on July 30, 2017.
    Michael J. Plagens, Sonoran Desert Naturalist; Nature Study in the Sonoran Desert; A Guide to the Flora and Fauna Arizona, USA & Sonora, Mexico
    Lyman David Benson “The Cacti of the United States and Canada” Stanford University Press, 1982
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations, (accessed 07/30/2017).