Opuntia humifusa, Eastern Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear pads in our gardens

When people think of cactus, they don't imagine them in Minnesota. Plants we think of as desert plants are often quite cold tolerant. What they don't appreciate are the cold, wet spells delivered by our temperate climate. 

How do these plants get around that, here in Minnesota, or on ocean beaches and shores of the Great Lakes? They grow in sand or gravel -well draining substrates that relieve them of the cold moisture that would rot them. They also "deflate," shriveling and sagging as winter approaches. In spring, they rise once again! 

My brother in law has an enormous south-facing patch of these in front of his West Metro house. The heat of the day is reflected back from the house and sidewalk creating an environment of brilliant blooms of the clearest, translucent yellow. 

I'd love cactus, but what can grow with them? Good question! Shorter companions: Prairie Violet, Pasque Flower, Prairie Smoke and Prairie Blue-eyed Grass. For medium-sized companions consider: Leadplant, Prairie Dropseed, June Grass, Blue Grama, Side Oats Grama, Purple Prairie Clover, and Large-flowered Penstemon.

Blooms: bright yellow, late June to August

Height: 6 to 16 inches

Conditions: sun to pt sun, well-draining sand and gravel, dry

Prickly Pear's large yellow flowers.