Brittle prickly pear, little prickly pear
Much of west and central US, and Canada
Low growing clusters
Scrubland, grassland, woodland, from desert regions to 9,000 foot mountains
Distribution map for opuntia fragilis
The brittle prickly pear, opuntia fragilis, is named for the loose connection of its pads - these are easily detached by passing animals, which helps in propagation, given that flowering occurs infrequently. The plant has a rather untidy, unremarkable appearance, with small pads, growing close to the ground, often partly covered by soil or leaf debris. Stem segments are rarely more than 2 inches in length, and are noticeably thicker than other species, often cylindrical or potato-shaped. They have a sparse covering of darker-tipped, grey or brownish spines, concentrated at the upper edge of the pads; the longest spine is about one inch. Spines number between 3 and 8 per areole.
The plant has a wider geographical range than any other US cactus, extending far into Canada, where the thick pads and low growth form enable it to withstand temperatures as low as -40°F.