The Coast Prickly-Pear (Opuntia littoralis), or Nopal in Spanish, is native to California and northern Baja California, Mexico. This species of cactus prefers coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats and locations with rocky or sandy soil like those on beaches and bluffs, but grows from the coast all the way to the mountains. It recovers well following wildfires and responds well to other disturbances. The Coast Prickly-Pear grows in dense clumps up to 12 feet wide and three feet tall.
The branches of the Coast Prickly-Pear are green oval-shaped pads similar to those of a Beavertail Cactus and covered in spines up to four centimeters long. The flowers on this species appear yellowish or red during the early summer while its fruit is a purplish-red color and similar in shape to a large egg.
Both the fruit and the green oval-shaped segments, once de-spined, are edible and can be found in many Mexican dishes like scrambled eggs, tacos, and salads.
To see more photos of the Coast Prickly-Pear, visit the San Diego Natural History Museum’s San Diego County Plant Atlas.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Melli, SDNHM