Plant This: Purple prickly pear adds rich winter color

Photos of rich-purple pads on a spineless prickly pear called ‘Santa Rita’ sent me running to the nurseries about 10 years ago. I came home with this, a purple prickly pear I thought was ‘Santa Rita’ but now believe to be Opuntia macrocentra. What’s the difference? Long spines, for one thing. O. macrocentra sports white spines the length of sewing needles on its upper pads.

Also, its purple coloring isn’t as intense or beautiful as the coveted ‘Santa Rita’. Still, the colorful pads are striking, especially in winter, when the purple intensifies.

I planted mine in this purple pot nearly a decade ago and have done nothing to it since but watch it grow. It soaks up blazing full sun on the deck all summer. It remains outdoors all winter, no matter how cold it gets. That’s how tough it is. Even so, it’s looking a bit ragged lately, and I believe I’ll repot it this spring to give it a boost.

In April, purple prickly pear puts out a handful of splendid, tissue-petaled yellow flowers with deep-red centers.

A glorious surprise, don’t you think?

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Gretchen says:

    Have you seen the “baby Rita” version of this plant? Unfortunately I overwatered mine before winter so never got to see the beautiful color change, if indeed it would do the same as the larger variety.

  2. Renee says:

    I love this plant! Mine makes more flowers than you thought could fit on the plant each spring. Mine was sold to me as O. macrocentra, and its gotten a lot wider but not taller in the last 3 years. I didn’t realize there was a spineless version… I should look for it!

  3. Jenny says:

    Those truly are some vicious spines. repotting will nit be an easy job.

  4. The prickly pear cactus grows in our area too. Years ago I was surprised to find that they were native to our area. I love the purple one. I have been tempted to grow it. There is a huge green one here where I can see it draping over a wall and blooming during summer. Pretty blooms.

  5. rickii says:

    Splendid in the purple pot. I certainly do not envy you the repotting project. Be careful!