Hardy Cacti at Swarthmore

Hardy Cacti at Swarthmore

Opuntia polycantha orange flowered form photo credit: D. Mattis

In 2003, the Scott Arboretum acquired a large collection of cacti species native to the mountainous and rocky areas of the western United States. Many of these cacti have turned out to be perfectly hardy and very ornamental in Swarthmore.

Opuntia polycantha orange floewred form 3

Opuntia polyacantha orange flowered form photo credit: D. Mattis

For example, Opuntia polyacantha, plains prickly pear, is native from North Dakota to Texas and throughout all the western states. We have used it in both a gravel garden at the Science Center and in a permanent container at Pearson Hall. Many of the original plants we got in 2003 were special color selections including an orange-flowering form of Opuntia polyacantha pictured here.

Opuntia polycantha v. arenaria

Opuntia polyacantha v. arenaria photo credit: D. Mattis

Another one of the 39 different cactus taxa that has proven to be perfectly hardy at the Scott Arboretum is Opuntia polyacantha var. arenaria. The El Paso prickly pear is native to western Texas and New Mexico and has striking lemon-yellow flowers. Like the other species of native American cacti growing at the Science Center, El Paso prickly pear makes a unique evergreen groundcover. It can be used effectively in your garden as a ground cover in poor, gravely soils, but also spilling out of permanent containers, as seen at Pearson Hall.

Opuntia polycantha orange flowered form 4

Hardy cacti growing in Pearson containers. photo credit: D. Mattis

Don’t be afraid to try some prickly pear in the sunny, dry corner of your garden. Visit the Scott Arboretum to see the array of Opuntia that you can grow.

Andrew Bunting
  • A.H. Weikel III
    Posted at 16:17h, 29 December Reply

    Hello Andrew. I picked up Cinnamomum chekiangensis at the Fall plant sale (planted it within a few days) and recently noticed that the bark has split (and essentially separated from the plant). This is almost complete on the trunk and working it’s way up the branches as well. The entire plant is protected by chicken wire, so I am assuming that this happened naturally. Is this due to the cold? Do the think that it will survive? Any information would be greatly approciated. Thank you.

  • Andrew Bunting
    Posted at 13:58h, 05 January Reply

    Regarding your Cinnamomum the bark splitting should not be due to hardiness, however, if the roots did not get established this fall then it could be a result of the weather.

  • Brian
    Posted at 12:15h, 07 April Reply

    The orange flowered Opuntia polyacantha is very good looking. Do you ever offer the pads for sale at your plant sales? If not do you know of a source that might?

  • Andrew Bunting
    Posted at 08:44h, 08 April Reply


    I could send you a pad if you email me your address to me at abuntin1@swarthmore.edu.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  • Derrill Pope
    Posted at 20:41h, 31 May Reply


    Hello, I am contacting you after seeing the photos of the two beautiful hardy Opuntia’s. on your site. Especially the orange flowering Polyacantha, is there anyway I can obtain a pad cutting of this plant? I can pay for postage or trade you for another pad cutting of a beautiful non yellow flowering hardy Opuntia from my own collection. Any help on this matter will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    Derrill L. Pope
    3207 E. Elm
    El Reno, OK. 73036

  • Derrill Pope
    Posted at 20:37h, 01 June Reply

    Hello, just wanted to let you know that my Orange flowering Opuntia Polyacantha that I obtained from you last year is doing very well it has already grown three new pads. If I can help you in anyway please let me know. Thanks!


  • Wendi
    Posted at 23:45h, 10 April Reply

    Do u have any of the orange pads I have the yellow allready which I love it I will buy it thank u Wendi

  • Andrew Bunting
    Posted at 08:46h, 11 April Reply

    That is great news!

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