Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

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

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Opuntia phaeacantha, Tulip Pricklypear

Tulip Pricklypear has showy large yellow flowers with red basal portions. This species blooms across its range from April to July. Opuntia phaeacanthaTulip Pricklypear is a native cactus found across a large range in the southwest United States. Early Tulip Pricklypear plants and some varieties were classified as Cactus Apple, Opuntia engelmannii, for which this species might be confused with as a similar looking species. Opuntia phaeacantha Tulip Pricklypear, also called Brownspine Pricklypear, has 0 or 2 to 8 spines per areoles that are brown to red-brown to black in color. Plants are found in elevations ranging from 2,000 to 7,000 feet and prefer sandy to rocky hills, flats, valleys, canyons, mountains and plains Opuntia phaeacantha Tulip Pricklypear grows up to 3 feet or less and spreads out to 8 feet across. The plants are spreading to commonly trailing with green to dark green (or reddish-brown under stress), flattened pads or stem segments. Opuntia phaeacantha

Scientific Name: Opuntia phaeacantha
Common Name: Tulip Pricklypear
Also Called: Brownspine Prickly Pear Cactus, Brownspine Pricklypear, Brown-spined Prickly Pear, Desert Prickly Pear, New Mexico Prickly Pear, Purple-fruited Prickly Pear, Tulip Prickly Pear (Spanish: Nopal)
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus Family
Synonyms: (Opuntia arizonica, Opuntia canada, Opuntia camanchica, Opuntia charlestonensis, Opuntia dulcis, Opuntia engelmannii var. cycloides, Opuntia gilvescens, Opuntia mojavensis, Opuntia phaeacantha var. brunnea, Opuntia p. var. camanchica, Opuntia p. var. major, Opuntia p. var. mojavensis, Opuntia p. var. nigricans, Opuntia p. var. phaeacantha, Opuntia p. var. superbospina, Opuntia superbospina, Opuntia woodsii)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: About 3 tall or less and up to 8 feet wide.
Growth Form: Shrub, Tree; decumbent to commonly trailing, stem segments green to dark green (or reddish under stress) flattened pads or segments, obovate to circular.
Leaves: Leaves modified into spines or glochids and emerging from areoles; spines 0 or 2 to 8 per areole; spines brown to red-brown to black, spines usually flattened near the base; glochids in dense crescent, tan to red-brown.
Flower Color: Yellow, inner tepals yellow with red basal portions; filaments greenish basally, pale yellow to white distally; anthers yellow; style white; stigma lobes green to yellow-green; fruits wine red to purple with greenish flesh, somewhat juicy, obovate to barrel-shaped, fleshy, glabrous, spine-less.
Flowering Season: April to July.
Elevation: 2,000 to 7,000 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Sandy to rocky hills, flats, valleys, canyons, mountains and plains; various habitats; deserts, chaparral.

Recorded Range: Opuntia phaeacantha is found mostly in the southwest quarter of the United States in AZ, CA, CO, KS, NM, NV, OK, SD, TX and UT. It is also native throughout Baja California and Mexico. In Arizona it is found throughout much of the states few or no records for Yuma, Co.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Opuntia phaeacantha.

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

Threatened/Endangered Information: Arizona: Opuntia phaeacantha, Tulip Pricklypear is salvage restricted: Nevada: Opuntia phaeacantha, Tulip Pricklypear is Protected as a Cactus, Yucca, or Christmas tree.

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.

Comments: Early Tulip Pricklypear plants and some varieties were classified as Cactus Apple, Opuntia engelmannii, for which this species might be confused with as a similar looking species.

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

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

  • Havasupai Food, Beverage; Bread & Cake; Dried Food; Fruit; Tools; Plant used to make a drink; Dried fruit pounded into cakes for storage or pieces of cake eaten without further preparation; Fruits sun dried for future use; Fruits eaten fresh; Used in preparing pottery clay; Spines used to prick the design into the skin for tattooing.
  • Navajo Food, Beverage; Bread & Cake; Candy; Cooking Agent; Plant used to make fruit juice; Pad pulp formed into cakes, dried, stored for later use and fried or roasted; Pads peeled, sliced, roasted, boiled in sugar water, dried and eaten like candy; Seed flour used to thicken soups, puddings or fruit dishes.
  • Pima Food, Unspecified; Keres, Western Food, Fruit; Mountain tunas used for food. Tender leaves sliced, cooked, seasoned like string beans and used for food.
  • Tewa Food, Fruit; Fruits eaten 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 08/07/2017, updated format 10/11/2017
    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 | 17. Opuntia phaeacantha Engelmann, Mem. Amer. Acad. Arts, n. s. 4: 51. 1849.; 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: 08/07/2017]. 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.
    Lyman David Benson “The Cacti of the United States and Canada” Stanford University Press, 1982
    Bruce D. Parfitt 2017. Opuntia phaeacantha, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on August 08, 2017.
    SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations, (accessed 08/07/2017).