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Vascular Plants of California
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Opuntia phaeacantha


Higher Taxonomy
Family: CactaceaeView DescriptionDichotomous Key
Habit: Perennial herb, shrub, tree, generally fleshy. Stem: cylindric to spheric, or flat; surface smooth, tubercled, or ribbed (grooved); nodal areoles bearing flowers. Leaf: generally 0 or early-deciduous, flat to +- cylindric. Spines: areoles generally with central, radial spines, occasionally with glochids. Flower: generally 1 per areole, bisexual [unisexual], sessile, radial [bilateral]; perianth parts generally many [5], scale-like to petal-like; stamens many; ovary inferior [superior], style 1, stigma lobes generally several [many]. Fruit: dry to fleshy or juicy, indehiscent to variously dehiscent, spiny, scaly, or naked; tubercled or smooth. Seed: generally many, occasionally 0--few.
Genera In Family: +- 125 genera, +- 1800 species: America (especially deserts), Africa; many cultivated, some edible. Note: Spines smaller, fewer (0) in shade forms; yellow spines blacken in age. Introduced species increasingly escape cultivation. Hybridization common in some genera.
eFlora Treatment Author: Bruce D. Parfitt, except as noted
Scientific Editor: Bruce D. Parfitt, Douglas H. Goldman, Bruce G. Baldwin, Thomas J. Rosatti.
Genus: OpuntiaView DescriptionDichotomous Key

Habit: Shrub, tree; roots fibrous [tuberous]. Stem: generally erect, < 6 [12] m; segments generally flat (+- cylindric), generally firmly attached; tubercles 0 to +- developed; ribs 0. Leaf: small, conic, fleshy, deciduous, present on young stems, ovaries. Spines: 0--many per areole, cylindric or flat, tip smooth or barbed, epidermis persistent; glochids generally many. Fruit: juicy, fleshy or dry; wall thick, bearing areoles; spiny or not. Seed: in a bony, +- white aril.
Etymology: (Possibly from Papago name ("opun") for this food pl; or for a spiny plant of Opus, Greece) Note: Spines smaller, fewer in shade forms; yellow spines blacken in age. Spineless stems, ovaries, and fruit generally with glochids, these occasionally long, conspicuous; hybridization common. Taxa with cylindric to club-shaped stems moved to Cylindropuntia, Grusonia.
eFlora Treatment Author: Marc Baker, Lucas C. Majure & Bruce D. Parfitt
Opuntia phaeacantha Engelm.
Habit: Shrub. Stem: 0.3--1 m; branches decumbent to +- spreading; segments 11--30 cm, generally obovate; gray-green, glabrous. Spines: 1--4(6) per areole on distal 30--70% of segment, fewer proximally, largest 3--8 cm, generally flat, spreading, distal 1--2 red-brown near base, distally white or straw, smaller 1--3 +- reflexed, generally white or gray. Flower: inner perianth 3.5--4 cm, yellow, base red; filaments white; style white, stigma yellow-green to green. Fruit: 2.5--6.5 cm, juicy, red-purple; interior green to dark red-purple; areoles 15--32. Seed: 3--6 mm. Chromosomes: 2n=66.
Ecology: Chaparral, Joshua-tree woodland, pinyon/juniper woodland; Elevation: 45--2220 m. Bioregional Distribution: SCoRO, SnBr, e PR, DMtns, DSon; Distribution Outside California: to South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico. Flowering Time: May--Jul Note: Hybrids with Opuntia ficus-indica (2n=77) uncommon or rare.
Unabridged Synonyms: Opuntia littoralis var. piercei (Fosberg) L.D. Benson & Walk.; Opuntia phaeacantha var. major Engelm.; probably Opuntia mojavensis Engelm. & J.M. Bigelow
Unabridged Note: According to David J. Keil (pers. comm.), on dunes of southwestern San Luis Obispo and northwestern Santa Barbara cos. (s CCo).
Jepson eFlora Author: Marc Baker, Lucas C. Majure & Bruce D. Parfitt
Index of California Plant Names (ICPN; linked via the Jepson Online Interchange)

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Citation for this treatment: Marc Baker, Lucas C. Majure & Bruce D. Parfitt 2019, Opuntia phaeacantha, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, Revision 7,, accessed on July 15, 2024.

Citation for the whole project: Jepson Flora Project (eds.) 2024, Jepson eFlora,, accessed on July 15, 2024.

Opuntia phaeacantha
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©2010 California Academy of Sciences
Opuntia phaeacantha
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©2008 Thomas Stoughton
Opuntia phaeacantha
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©2010 California Academy of Sciences
Opuntia phaeacantha
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©2005 James M. Andre
Opuntia phaeacantha
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©2010 California Academy of Sciences

More photos of Opuntia phaeacantha
in CalPhotos

Geographic subdivisions for Opuntia phaeacantha:
SCoRO, SnBr, e PR, DMtns, DSon
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map of distribution 1

(Note: any qualifiers in the taxon distribution description, such as 'northern', 'southern', 'adjacent' etc., are not reflected in the map above, and in some cases indication of a taxon in a subdivision is based on a single collection or author-verified occurrence).


Data provided by the participants of the  Consortium of California Herbaria.

View all CCH records
All markers link to CCH specimen records. The original determination is shown in the popup window.
Blue markers indicate specimens that map to one of the expected Jepson geographic subdivisions (see left map). Purple markers indicate specimens collected from a garden, greenhouse, or other non-wild location.
Yellow markers indicate records that may provide evidence for eFlora range revision or may have georeferencing or identification issues.

CCH collections by month Flowering-Fruiting Monthly Counts

Duplicates counted once; synonyms included.
Species do not include records of infraspecific taxa, if there are more than 1 infraspecific taxon in CA.
Blue line denotes eFlora flowering time (fruiting time in some monocot genera).