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Opuntia arenaria
(Dune pricklypear, sand pricklypear, sandbur cactus)

[taxon report][distribution map][all photos][line drawing]

Family: Cactaceae

Scientific Name: Opuntia arenaria Engelmann

Synonyms: Opuntia polyacantha Haworth var. arenaria (Engelmann) Parfitt

Vernacular Name: Dune pricklypear, sand pricklypear, sandbur cactus

R-E-D Code: 1-2-2

Description: Stem consisting of loosely attached flattened joints up to 8 cm in length by 2-3 cm in width, the joints highly varied in size and shape, bearing areoles with dense clumps of yellowish glochids; rhizomes and often larger roots also often bearing glochids; spines in areoles on stems slender and barbed, up to about 1.5 or exceptionally 2.5 cm long, about 3-10 per areole; spines on ovary and fruit smaller; flowers about 3-6 cm across, yellow, sometimes fading to orange; stigmas green; fruit drying to tan, rigid-walled, brittle; seeds deep brown to nearly black, invested in a hard bony off-white aril, irregular in shape, discoid with a prominent rim, roughly 5-7 mm in diameter. Flowers in May to June.

Similar Species: Opuntia arenaria is the only pricklypear with dry fruits and glochids on the roots. East of El Paso in New Mexico and Texas, O. arenaria may intergrade with O. trichophora, a species with long slender hair-like spines. Opuntia trichophora generally favors rocky, gypy, or occasionally silty habitats.

Distribution: New Mexico, southern Doņa Ana, Luna, and Socorro counties; adjacent Texas, El Paso County; Mexico, Chihuahua, south to near Samalayuca.

Habitat: Sandy areas, particularly semi-stabilized sand dunes among open Chihuahuan desert scrub, often with honey mesquite and a sparse cover of grasses; 1,160-1,300 m (3,800-4,300 ft).

Remarks: This species is closely akin to other dry-fruited species of Opuntia, but due to its different and low chromosome number and morphological stability, it is usually considered to be a distinct and well defined species. Opuntia polyacantha (incl. O. erinacea) may be separated by its larger size (joints usually well over 3 cm in diameter) and firmly attached joints, as well as the fact that many individuals have pink, red, or magenta pigmentation in their flowers. Opuntia polyacantha is tetraploid (2n = 44), while O. arenaria is diploid (2n = 22). Opuntia polyacantha and O. arenaria are not known to occur sympatrically. It is often disliked by cattlemen and hikers due to its habit of loosing joints that easily attach themselves to fur and clothing. The occurrences in Socorro County need to be confirmed with collected specimens because this species is easily misidentified unless the glochids on the roots are observed.

Conservation Considerations: Much of its former habitat has been lost to urbanization and agricultural development in the Rio Grande Valley. Long-term population trends outside of the Rio Grande Valley are unknown.

Important Literature (*Illustration):

*Benson, L. 1970. The cactaceae. In: C.L. Lundell and collaborators. Flora of Texas 2:221-317. Texas Research Foundation, Renner.

*Benson, L. 1982. The cacti of the United States and Canada. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.

*New Mexico Native Plants Protection Advisory Committee. 1984. A handbook of rare and endemic plants of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Schulz, E.D. and R. Runyon. 1930. Texas cacti. Texas Academy of Science, San Antonio.

*Weniger, D. 1970. Cacti of the Southwest. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Information Compiled By: David J. Ferguson, 1998

Agency Status:
Taxon USFWS State of NM USFS BLM Navajo Nation Natural Heritage NM Global Rank
Opuntia arenariaSoCE.Sen.S2G2

Photo credits in header Peniocereus greggii var. greggii © T. Todsen,
Lepidospartum burgessii © M. Howard, Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta © R. Sivinski
©2005 New Mexico Rare Plant Technical Council