Big Pine Key Prickly-pear / Center For Plant Conservation
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Plant Profile

Big Pine Key Prickly-pear (Opuntia triacantha)

Note the flattened and nearly prostrate spines along the stems of this prickly pear species. Photo Credit: Meghan Fellows
  • Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Cactaceae
  • State: FL, PR, VI
  • Nature Serve ID: 161571
  • Lifeform: Shrub
  • Categories of Interest: Cacti/Succulents
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/09/1992

Opuntia triacantha is a prickly pear cactus native to the Florida Keys and islands of the Caribbean (Britton and Rose 2000). The stems of this low-growing cactus have strongly-barbed spines, and are flattened and nearly prostrate, with loosely attached joints, giving the impression that is has fallen over (Benson 1982). Flower petals are pale yellow, and fruits are red or purple (Coile 2000). There is very little published information on this species, and there has been no scientific research of which we are aware.

Where is Big Pine Key Prickly-pear (Opuntia triacantha) located in the wild?


*Sandy areas back of beach on old limestone of reefs, just above sea level (Benson 1982). *Flats or low hills, not very far inland (Britton and Rose 1920).


The Florida Keys, Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (Benson 1982).

States & Provinces:

Big Pine Key Prickly-pear can be found in Florida, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Which CPC Partners conserve Big Pine Key Prickly-pear (Opuntia triacantha)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Rare in Florida, reported also for several other Caribbean areas.

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

As with all rare plants in the Keys, development is a major threat. A second cause for concern is predation by the non-native cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Johnson and Stiling 1996).

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

There are three known populations in the Florida Keys.

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

We are aware of no current (or past) research conducted on this species.

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

Responsible agencies include the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, National Key Deer Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, private landowners. The FDEP regularly monitors populations on its lands.

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

Research is needed on reproduction, phenology, and life history. In addition, the effects of light levels and salinity could aid in determining the best locations for outplanting. Regular monitoring is needed on federal and private lands. A census of all populations is needed. Outplantings should be conducted to increase population size.

Jennifer Possley
  • 01/01/2010

If outplantings are to be conducted, pads should be collected and propagated. Ideal outplanting sites, on which the plant is currently or was historically found, should be located.


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Taxon Opuntia triacantha
Authority (Willdenow) Sweet
Family Cactaceae
CPC Number 3032
ITIS 19740
Duration Perennial
Common Names Big Pine Key prickly-pear | jumping prickly apple | Spanish lady
Associated Scientific Names Cactus triacanthus | Opuntia abjecta | Cactus triacanthos | Opuntia triacantha | Opuntia militaris
Distribution The Florida Keys, Desecheo Island, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (Benson 1982).
State Rank
State State Rank
Florida S1
Puerto Rico
Virgin Islands
Ecological Relationships


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