Opuntia chlorotica

Pancake Prickly Pear - Opuntia chlorotica
New Mexico, USA

Opuntia chlorotica, the Pancake Prickly Pear (also Clock-Face Prickly Pear, Flapjack Prickly Pear, and/or Dollarjoint Prickly Pear), has a stem, the only Opuntia in the Black Range which does.  The spines on the stem point downward.  The circular pads and the “trunk” make this a fairly easy cactus to identify.    

I photographed this specimen on an outing to Pony Hills, at the southern end of the Black Range.  This species grows at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet.  In the Black Range we are at the eastern extent of its range - which extends westward to the California Desert, as far north as the very southwestern part of Utah, and into the Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora.

There are about 12 Prickly Pear species in the USA and Canada.  Prickly Pear and Cholla make up the Opuntia genus.  The Opuntia genus is unique in having very small spines called glochids associated with each cluster of spines, which are modified leaves.  Both the spines and glochids are a pain - literally, but I have always found the spines to be easier to deal with.  

Of note is the upright structure, the round pads, yellow spines, spines on the trunk, and the fact that it grows in very rocky soil (less soil than rock).  These plants can grow to 6 or 7 feet tall (2 or more meters).  An early photograph of the pads was published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (Vol. 43, Plate 3) in 1916 (photo right).

Following European contact more members of the Southwestern tribes began to develop diabetes.  Some argue that part of the reason for that development is that European foods, which tended to be high in sugars, replaced the traditional foods of the indigenous peoples.  Foods like the fruit (tuna) and pads (nopalito) of Prickly Pear Cactus, both of which are rich in fibers which are absorbed slowly into the human body - resulting in relatively stable levels of sugar in the blood.

This species was first described by John Milton Bigelow and George Engelmann in 1856.  They served together on the “Pacific Railroad Expedition and Survey Along the 35th Parallel” (1853-1855) which was commanded by Lieutenant A. W. Whipple.

Immediately above and below - Pony Hills
April 16, 2015

Photos immediately above and below: January 29, 2014, Frying Pan Canyon near Cooke’s Peak

© Robert Barnes 2018-2024