Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida


O. herrfeldtii
O. lubrica
O. microdasys var. rufida
O. rufida
O. rufida var. tortiflora


Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida (Opuntia rufida) is native to an area that includes Texas, and part of Mexico. Its habitat are xerophyllous scrubs with a main presence of low, succulent, drought-resistant bushes, on sandy or gravelly soils, made of limestone often mixed with volcanic material. Like all Opuntias, this species tend to grow in colonies and thus, in its natural habitat, it is not threatened with extinction and it’s widly widespread. The altitude range of its native environment goes from 600 to 1300 meters above the sea level. Its preferred spots are south-facing rocky slopes, directly exposed to sunlight. A recent threat to this species is a moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, which can exterminate populations completely, feeding on the Opuntias cladodes.


Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida is a large succulent shrub, highly-branched, without a definite central trunk, that reaches a maximum height of 1,5 meters and a maximum width of 2,5 meters. Its stems are more or less erect and, like in all Opuntias, formed by rounded, paddle-shaped, fleshy units called “cladodes”. In this species, cladodes are bright green, with a subtle pruine, barely hinted, pointed with areoles from which the glochids are formed. Glochids are the typical short, hairy-like spines of Opuntias and some other succulent plants families. In some species, like the common prickly pear, O. ficus-indica, and also in the here descripted Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida, glochids easily detach from the plant and lodge in the skin, causing irritation upon contact. In this species, glochids show a typical orange-reddish colour, that earned it the name “Rufida”.
Flowers, like in almost every Opuntia, are solitary and very beautiful, and sprout from the areoles on the top of the terminal cladodes. They are born pale yellow and become golden-orange as they age, are 5 to 7.5 centimeters long and wide. The blooming season of Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida occurs from Spring to early Summer. Flowers open in the morning, and close at night and often don’t open again.
Fruits are fleshy, not edible, globose, 4 centimeters long and 2 centimeters wide.


This is a slow growing plant, easy to cultivate. The plant needs a full light sun exposure but is recommended to avoid direct sun-light in the hottest periods. The plant does not like temperatures below 3°C so it needs to be placed indoors in the coldest periods. The soil should be mixed with pumice, clay and loam to allow the drainage and prevent the root rot, the plant is prone to it indeed. Remember to use a perforating pot to drain excess water. Watering can be done regularly in Spring and Summer: during the vegetative period you can water the plant (every 7 days), checking that the soil is completely dry before watering again; in winter you should stop the watering to allow the plant to enter dormancy. If you want a faster and lush growth you can fertilize the plant once a month during the growing season with the specific fertilizers for succulents; stop fertilizing throughout the winter. If the pot starts to be too small for the plant you can repot the plant in a pot 2 cm wider. Repotting should be done early in the growing season with fresh new potting soil. Be careful to red spiders and mealy bugs.


Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida, like most Opuntias, spreads mainly through the separation and consequent replanting of the cladodes (the flattened and rounded stem organs). Simply detach one and leave it lying on the ground: it will take root at any time of the growing season, which runs from March to October. Propagation by sowing is also possible. Sow in spring, providing a temperature between 20-28ºC, keeping the substrate slightly moist until germination (usually 7-14 days).


The name of the species comes from the Latin “rufus”, = reddish, referring to the reddish colour of its glochids (spines). Instead, the common names in English (blind prickly pear) and Spanish (nopal cegador) come from the belief that the glochids are loose and supposedly may fly into the air when the plants are shaken. The dislodged glochids may get into the eyes of animals and cause severe problems.

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