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Opuntia stricta (Haworth) Haworth var. stricta . Coastal Prickly Pear, Shell Midden Prickly-pear. Phen: Apr-Jun; Aug-Dec (-Feb). Hab: Coastal dunes and coastal scrub, shell middens in salt marshes of the Gulf Coast, occasionally in water-logged saline soils of mangroves. Dist: Se. NC (reports from VA are based on a misidentification) south to s. FL, west to e. LA.

ID notes:This species forms an erect or ascending shrub from 1-2 (-3) m tall, which are generally highly branching. The gray-green, dull color of the pads, yellow spines, and dark purple fruit can help distinguish this species from O. austrina, with which it is sometimes associated on the FL Atlantic Coast.

Origin/Endemic status: Endemic

Other Comments: O. stricta is introduced throughout the world, in the Americas occurring throughout the Antilles, se. US, parts of coastal TX and eastern Mexico, northern South America, Ecuador, and Peru. Mostly restricted to coastal areas from se. NC to e. LA in our area, unless planted as an ornamental; coastal hammocks, shell middens, coastal dunes, barrier islands. Small (1933) recorded O. stricta (as O. tunoidea) from NC, and the species is still present in dune scrub and grasslands in the southern counties. The restricted distribution of this species in the se. US likely is the result of its lack of cold tolerance (Majure, pers. obs.). This species has long been used as a food source for native peoples; Small (1933) identifies it as the "the prickly-pears the early Spanish records tell us the aborigines feasted on for three months of each year and also cured, like figs, for food when out of season". O. stricta has been heavily impacted by the non-native cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum. Two varieties of O. stricta, O. stricta var. stricta and O. stricta var. dillenii, are recognized in our area, which sometimes are elevated to species level. Although the distinction of O. stricta var. dillenii is mostly straightforward in the Antilles, intermediate morphotypes and overlapping populations of the two in the southeastern U.S. make differentiation into species very difficult. Both taxa can sometimes produce spineless cladodes, but O. stricta var. dillenii tends to have more tuberculate stems. More taxonomic and genetic work needs to be carried out on this species complex. O. stricta has been involved in numerous hybridization events throughout its range (see Majure et al. 2012c). Intermediates between O. stricta and O. mesacantha ssp. mesacantha have been found in coastal AL (Majure, pers. obs.). Var. stricta is apparently restricted to the se. US along the coast, although spineless material from the Caribbean is often attributed to it. Inland material in sw. MS (Adams Co.) may be the result of escaped individuals from ornamental plantings. Vegetative propagules of this taxon have been found widely dispersed in coastal areas after hurricanes (Majure, pers. obs.). This taxon is hexaploid (2n=66).

Synonymy: = K1, K4, SFla, Tx, Benson (1982), Doyle (1990), Ward (2009e); = n/a – C, F, RAB; > inermis DC. – S13; < Opuntia stricta (Haw.) Haw. – Fl5, FNA4, K3, WH3, Weniger (1984); >< Opuntia stricta (Haw.) Haw. – S; > Opuntia tunoidea Gibbes – S

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Wetland Indicator Status:

  • Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain: UPL (taxonomic split from wetland indicator species)
  • Great Plains: FACU (taxonomic split from wetland indicator species)

Heliophily: 9

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image of plant© Hildegard Klein, some rights reserved (CC BY), uploaded by Hildegard Klein source CC-BY | Original Image ⭷


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