HARDY CACTI
All cacti listed here will appreciate good drainage and even gritty or gravelly soil in climates with wet winters. In drier, desert climates they can be grown on a wider range of soils. Cacti will respond to watering and feeding during their active growth period in late spring or early summer. Choose from among the following exciting plants to add to your succulent or rock garden!

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Opuntia - PRICKLY PEAR

See also Cylindropuntia for cholla-type cacti.

Not really an Irish name, Opuntia actually refers to a large and diverse group of cacti including some of the most familiar types, and a great number of cold-hardy species. Native throughout much of North America (and drier regions of South America) these plants are an important part of our native flora, yet are often passed off as weird or peculiar by gardeners. This is really a shame since they are easy and fun to grow in the right place, and have fabulous texture with beautiful spines and flowers. And it should come as no surprise to learn they don't require a lot of water.

The Opuntias of North America consist of two basic forms: those with thick, rounded pads (or occasionally small, cylindrical pads), and those called "chollas," which have roughly cylindrical stems and are now placed under Cylindropuntia (which see). Together with the hardy Agaves and Yuccas, these cacti form the backbone of any desert garden or xeric bed. Most enthusiasts prefer to incorporate both cholla and prickly pear types into their garden. The South American Opuntoids get much more complex, with many genera defying categorization into either of the basic North American forms.

In the garden Opuntias generally perform best with full sun and splendid drainage in the Pacific Northwest. A top dressing of rocks or gravel isn't a bad idea either. However in hotter climates you can get away with more shade, and in drier climates you can get away with heavier soil for many types. Although they make great container plants for the spines, flower production is usually much better if the plants are in the ground.

 
Opuntia columbiana
$9
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -30°F or below

This special cactus is restricted in its distribution to the Pacific Northwest, including central and eastern Washington, central Idaho, and northeast Oregon. The spiny pads are usually brittle like those of O. fragilis, but are larger and pale green with long, white spines. A variable plant, it may form large mats that sprawl over the ground, or little compact plants with only a few pads. Some people think this is either a hybrid, or a form or subspecies of O. erinacea, but we see no basis for either of these hypotheses. I would think that further genetic research would result in this species being split up, if anything. Flower color is usually yellow which fades to pink as the flowers age, though there is some variation. Hardy to -30°F or below.

 
Opuntia columbiana [Hells Canyon] SBH####
$12
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -30°F or below

This special cactus is restricted in its distribution to the Pacific Northwest, including central and eastern Washington, central Idaho, and northeast Oregon. The spiny pads are usually brittle like those of O. fragilis, but are larger and pale green with long, white spines. A variable plant, it may form large mats that sprawl over the ground, or little compact plants with only a few pads. Some people think this is either a hybrid, or a form or subspecies of O. erinacea, but we see no basis for either of these hypotheses. I would think that further genetic research would result in this species being split up, if anything. Flower color is usually yellow which fades to pink as the flowers age, though there is some variation. This form is one of Sean Hogan's collections from Wallowa County, Oregon, selected for its exceptional vigor and ease of growth, and superior flowers. We thank him for sharing it from his legendary collection of exciting plants. Hardy to at least -30°F

Opuntia columbiana [Snake River small pads] IB72
$12
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -30°F or below

This special cactus is restricted in its distribution to the Pacific Northwest, including central and eastern Washington, central Idaho, and northeast Oregon. The spiny pads are usually brittle like those of O. fragilis, but are larger and pale green with long, white spines. A variable plant, it may form large mats that sprawl over the ground, or little compact plants with only a few pads. Some people think this is either a hybrid, or a form or subspecies of O. erinacea, but we see no basis for either of these hypotheses. I would think that further genetic research would result in this species being split up, if anything. Flower color is usually yellow which fades to pink as the flowers age, though there is some variation. This collection from Whitman Co, Washington is one of many wonderful forms of native cacti found in our state. This one has exceptionally dense spination and is more compact in its habit than nearby forms, though still spreading out to 3' or so with a great many pads. Yellow flowers can be expected on established plants. Hardy to at least -30°F.

Opuntia debreczyi 'Denudata' [pink]
$9
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6 · Hardy to -40°F or below

Known generally as O. fragilis var. denudata, this cactus now gets its own name. It comes from the Utah/Colorado area and may represent some sort of intermediate form between O. rutilla and O. fragilis. Cute as a button, this species has little rounded pads which increase slowly into a small clump to perhaps 8" tall and 18" wide. Beautiful large pink flowers cover the plant in spring. It is not completely devoid of spines but the spination is much less conspicuous than O. fragilis generally is.

 
Opuntia fragilis - BRITTLE PRICKLY-PEAR
$8
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -30°F or below

This Opuntia very fragilis, in fact, it has got to be the fragilis Opuntia ever. It's as fragilis anything. But it's still an appealing and very special cactus. It's as cute as a really spiny button, with its round little pads and spines ranging in color from fiery orange to white. Big yellow flowers are sometimes seen in late spring. The pads detach easily from one another, which is an important part of the way this species distributes itself - it is said to latch onto the fur of passing animals which later drop the pads somewhere else. It is native over a very large area of the West, and it's very hardy, most forms tolerating -30°F or even much lower temperatures.

Opuntia fragilis IB77 [Sequim] - BRITTLE PRICKLY-PEAR
$12
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -20°F or below

The only cactus native to western Washington, this diminutive cactus is not just a curiosity but also a great ornamental plant. It forms an attractive low mound of rounded spiny pads usually to about 6" tall and eventually up to 3' across if allowed. Yellow flowers appear in June, although it doesn't always flower every year, even in the wild. It looks great in a rock garden or cactus garden or as a small-scale groundcover in gravelly or sandy areas. It will appreciate full sun and a space free of competition from other plants. It should be propagated and cultivated more, as this particular form, which grows near Sequim, is nearly extinct in the wild. Hardy to at least -20°F, perhaps much lower.

 
Opuntia fragilis [Whidbey Island] - BRITTLE PRICKLY-PEAR
$12
Cactaceae · Drought resistance code 6+ · Hardy to -20°F or below

This Opuntia very fragilis, in fact, it has got to be the fragilis Opuntia ever. It's as fragilis anything. But it's still an appealing and very special cactus. It's as cute as a really spiny button, with its round little pads and spines ranging in color from fiery orange to white. Big yellow flowers are sometimes seen in late spring. The pads detach easily from one another, which is an important part of the way this species distributes itself - it is said to latch onto the fur of passing animals which later drop the pads somewhere else. It is native over a very large area of the West, and it's very hardy, most forms tolerating -30°F or even much lower temperatures. This form comes from Whidbey Island, where it is now reduced to one very small population in the wild. Hardy to at least -20°F.