Opuntia fragilis (Nutt.) Haw.
brittle prickly-pear cactus (brittle pricklypear)
Cactaceae (Cactus family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants


© Ted Edwards     (Photo ID #6824)


E-Flora BC Static Map

Distribution of Opuntia fragilis
Click here to view the full interactive map and legend


Previously, two species of Opuntia were recognized as present in British Columbia: O. fragilis and O. polyacantha. However, the BC Conservation Data Centre, and E-Flora BC, follow Flora North America, and no longer recognize O. polyacantha as present in the province.

Identification of cacti in the province is not completely clear, however, and different 'forms' of Opuntia have been observed here. Read more about Opuntia in BC and Washington.

Species Information

Perennial herb from a fibrous root; mat-forming; stems prostrate, succulent, subglobose to rounded, fleshy, 5-20 cm tall; stem segments not much flattened, readily detaching from the plant, round to egg-shaped, 2-5 cm long; areoles coarsely white-woolly with a few yellowish, spiny bristles and 2-7 straight, yellowish to brownish, 1-3 cm long spines.
Reduced to 2-7, large yellowish to brownish spines 1-3 cm long, strongly barbed.
Inflorescence of single flowers with paper-thin petals, borne on previous year's pits, yellow, 3-5 cm across, stamens numerous with reddish stalks.
Dry, spiny berry, 1.5-2 cm long, pear-shaped.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


If more than one illustration is available for a species (e.g., separate illustrations were provided for two subspecies) then links to the separate images will be provided below. Note that individual subspecies or varietal illustrations are not always available.


Ecological Framework for Opuntia fragilis

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres)
586 225 1115
Slope Gradient (%)
21 0 90

Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]

187 5 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
2 0 7
Modal Nutrient Regime
# of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class

All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in

BG(402), BWBS(1), IDF(43), PP(64)

Habitat and Range

Dry grassy, sandy or gravelly slopes in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; common in S BC east of the Coast-Cascade Mountains, less frequent on SE Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, rare along the Peace River in NE BC; E to ON and S to KS, IL, TX and N CA.

SourceThe Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Synonyms and Alternate Names:
Cactus fragilis Nutt.
Opuntia brachyarthra Engelm. & Bigelow
Opuntia fragilis subsp. brachyarthra (Engelm. & Bigelow) W.A. Weber
Opuntia fragilis var. brachyarthra (Engelm. & Bigelow) Coult.
Opuntia fragilis var. denudata Wieg. & Backeberg
Opuntia fragilis var. fragilis (Nutt.) Haw. [superfluous autonym]

Taxonomic Notes

Fragile prickly pear is a native BC cactus with small pads that can be cylindrical (usually in the interior of the province) or larger and somewhat flattened (coastal forms). The pads can be upright or prostrate. In summer they produce bright yellow cactus flowers. Plant in full sun in sharply draining soil.

Note Author: Gary Lewis, Phoenix Perennials