Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Little Prickly-pear - Opuntia drummondii   Graham
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Section 6 » Family Cactaceae
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DistributionStrictly along the coast, occurring in nearly all coastal counties from Currituck to the SC state line. There are no known records for other counties in the state.

This is a southern species ranging north only to the NC coast, and southward to northern FL and to LA. There are scattered far inland records in SC, GA, AL, and MS.
AbundanceIn barrier beach dunes and sand flats, it can be locally common, but overall along the coast best called infrequent to fairly common. Easily found at Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County.
HabitatThis species is found in low dunes and sand flats back from the beach. Outside of NC it can be found on riverine sand bars and around granitic flatrocks.
See also Habitat Account for Maritime Dune Grass and Forblands
PhenologyThis species seldom flowers in NC. If and when it does, it blooms in May and June, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis cactus is quite different from the widespread O. mesacantha. Though it is also a fleshy, succulent, and prostrate species, with rounded and jointed stems, it is heavily armed with strong 1” long spines. The fleshy “pads” are only about 1” long on average, but they easily break off when someone steps on them and get the spines stuck in their shoe or (worse) in their foot. As the species seldom flowers, and can be hidden in grasses, one often does not know that he has found this species until he looks at his shoes after walking through dunes or sandy grassy places. Not surprisingly, owing to it seldom flowering and its habitat of easily breaking off of the stem pads, reproduction is typically asexual and new clones of the original parent are thus dispersed by man or other animals. The flowers are yellow and up to 2” across, but they seldom can be seen in NC.
Taxonomic CommentsAs with the previous cactus species, this “small” species has also been “batted around” from one scientific name to another over the decades. It has typically been named as O. drummondii (RAB 1968) and Weakley (2018), but others have named it as O. pusilla, as does NatureServe.

Other Common Name(s)Cockspur Prickly-pear, Dune Prickly-pear, Sand-bur Prickly-pear, Creeping Cactus
State RankS3
Global RankG4
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