Opuntia phaecantha is a tough hardy prickly pear from the southwestern states of the US occuring naturally over a wide geographical range including western and central Texas, New Mexico, much of Arizona, southeast Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma. Although these are predominanetly arid terrains, it occurs over a number of different elevations to as high as 7200 feet and in a number of different ecological niches from desert, chaparral and Joshua tree woodland to ponderosa and pinon-juniper forests and the cool moist slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
A large-growing species often with a sprawling habit, growing to about 1m but spreading to 2-3m with the cladodes sometimes growing down and resting on the ground where they will often root before ascending again. It is a variable species with fierce grey or brown spines on relatively large cladodes and like many Opuntias it has a variable flower; usually yellow but sometimes orange and particularly on the Utah forms, a reddish colour. The purplish crimson-red fruits have green flesh and are edible but - as always when handling Opuntias - care must be taken and gloves should be worn to remove the skin and glochids, peeling them under running water.
Opuntia phaecantha is very hardy and ideally suited to the UK provided it is given an exceptionally free-draining substrate. It is capable of experiencing temperatures in excess of the severe UK winter of 2010-11 and despite its origins in the American southwest it has a good tolerance of moisture. As long as it has suitable drainage it is capable of pulling through a typically wet UK summer or a cold wet UK winter with all its characteristic rain, frost and snow. A rain-shelter during the winter is, however, a sensible precaution. The cladodes often have shadings of purplish-red under stress in the winter.
|Synonyms||Opuntia angustata, Opuntia camanchica, Opuntia charlestonensis, Opuntia chihuahensis, Opuntia cyclodes, Opuntia dulcis, Opuntia gilvescens, Opuntia gregoriana, Opuntia mojavensis, Opuntia phaeacantha var. camanchica, Opuntia phaeacantha var. major, Opuntia phaeacantha var. wootonii, Opuntia superbospina, Opuntia toumeyi, Opuntia woodsii, Opuntia wootonii, Opuntia zuniensis|
|Geographical Origin||USA: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma|
|Cultivation||Full sun. Free draining gritty alkaline soil|
|Eventual Height||1-1.5 m|
|Eventual Spread||3 m|
|Hardiness||Hardy to at least -18C given a free draining substrate|
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