Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Color Purple

Opuntia santa-rita



The cooler weather has triggered my Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita) pads to change color from a blue-green to the purple you see in the photo. This change is caused by the chemical pigment, Betacyamin, found in plants within the Caryophyllales order, which contains a diverse group including carnations, cacti, and ice plants, to name a few. Other stresses, such as lack of water, will also cause the purple tinge.

Because of its beautiful coloring, Santa Rita Prickly Pear is a must for any desert garden. The purple pads look especially attractive when surrounded by yellow-orange California Poppies in the spring. It is slow growing except when young and it remains a manageable size, about 3' high by 6' wide. Most gardeners keep it pruned to a smaller width.

Its origin is Arizona, (found extensively in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson) Texas and Northern Mexico. Although it usually doesn’t have spines, it has an abundance of glochids, so handle it with care.

It is also one of the easiest prickly pears to propagate. Just snap off a pad, let it callus for a few days, and place half the pad in the ground. Unlike some other prickly pears, it will quickly root. It requires no water (except rainwater) after it’s established, and in the spring, it produces large, pale yellow flowers, followed by dark purple-red fruits.




9 comments:

MrBrownThumb said...

Oh that's a great color. It's getting cool here and I can't wait to see what the temps do to some of the succulents.

verobirdie said...

I like this one, but it must be the quilting girl in me :-) The color is just fabulous.

Pudgeduck said...

The Santa Rita in your unbelievabe garden is the most attractive of all your cacti. I have one in my garden with only 2 pads. I have had it about 2 years now-very slow growing for me.

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

What a beautiful cactus, such a different color.

jocelyn said...

Featuring a purple cactus today---I think you must be a closet Rockies fan! Just kidding. As always, a fascinating and informative post.

Wicked Gardener said...

Wow - I've never seen anything like it! Very cool!

No Rain said...

jocelyn,
Very funny! The Diamondbacks color used to be purple--no Rockies stuff allowed in my garden!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the pads of this species of Opuntia are edible?

No Rain said...

Anonymous,
Yes, these are edible, as are other prickly pear. Opuntia Opuntia Engelmannii pads are more commonly used though.