When you think of a locale for cactus, Ohio doesn’t generally spring to mind. Texas perhaps, certainly Arizona, but not Ohio. Yet there is a species of cactus that not only grows in Ohio, but is native to the state.
Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is native to Ohio growing in sandy soil in a few select places in northwest and southern Ohio. Deb and I lived in Austin, Texas for several years and frequently saw prickly pear cactus. It never occurred to us we’d find it in Ohio. But on a recent trip to the northwest near Toledo, we visited Kitty Todd Nature Preserve and saw prickly pear growing in patches in the wild.
Naturally I wondered, how can prickly pear survive cold winter temperatures in Ohio. The USDA site states: “Eastern prickly pear is winter hardy, being able to survive on sites where the minimum winter temperatures can drop below 10°F (-12°C). The cactus avoids freeze damage by rapidly reducing the water content in cells during cold acclimation”.
The Kitty Todd Preserve is in an area of Ohio called “Oak Openings”. I described this area in a recent post about nearby Oak Openings Metro Park (where prickly pear is also found). There are sand dunes found here that are remnants of barrier islands of an ancient lake. And eastern prickly pear cactus grows quite well in this sandy soil.
We visited in May, but the best time to go is in June, when the prickly pear is in bloom. See the links at the bottom of this post for an article by botanist Andrew Gibson. His article includes photos of the flower.
- TrekOhio: Lucas County Parks & Preserves; links to preserves where prickly pear can be viewed in the wild, such as the Oak Openings Metropark and Kitty Todd.
- Buckeye Botanist: Prickly Pear – Includes photos of Ohio Prickly Pear in bloom
- USDA: Opuntia humifusa — This is the scientific name for eastern prickly pear cactus.
- USDA: Distribution of Opuntia humifusa in Ohio
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