The genus Opuntia is comprised of many interesting shapes (morphologies). These can vary from ground-hugging miniatures spanning only inches in height, to arboreal giants of 20 feet or greater. Some Opuntias are fast growing, low maintenance desert sculptures, making them standouts as xeriscape specimens. Some excellent landscape forms are Opuntia ‘Santa Rita’, with silvery round pads tinged purple in cooler weather and Consolea falcata, with its shiny green pads and its floriferous nature. Other favorites include Opuntia robusta, with giant 12″ round bluish pads and Opuntia leucotricha, with its dense silvery spines. All of these make bold statuesque statements in any garden or xeriscape.

Because of their diverse morphology, some of the smaller Opuntias make fascinating house and patio plants. These include Opuntia microdasys, the well-known tufted golden yellow “Bunny Ears” or its counterpart “Angel Wings”. Another irresistible Opuntia is the dwarf form of Opuntia subulata, which branches to form a perfect desert Christmas tree that can be decorated and used as a centerpiece or on a desk at the office.

Many of us want a little piece of the desert nearby, and what better way to achieve this than by planting an Opuntia, “Icon of the Southwest”.

by Renee O’Connell
Originally published in Garden Compass magazine
Mar/Apr 2003
Used with permission.