Species Profile

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus

Scientific Name: Opuntia humifusa
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2010
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This cactus of sandy habitats is restricted in Canada to two very small locations in extreme southwestern Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie. The two native populations are primarily at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to vegetation succession and shoreline erosion. Stochastic events could readily eliminate the population on Pelee Island consisting only of a few plants.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in April 1985. Status re-examined and confirmed Endangered in April 1998, May 2000, and April 2010.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Photo 1
Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Photo 2
Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Photo 3

Top

Description

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus is a low succulent plant. The green stems are flattened and are formed of segments; barbed bristles are found around the surfaces of the segments. Yellow to gold flowers are found along the margins of mature segments. The flowers are waxy and sometimes have red centers; they measure 4 to 6 cm wide. The juicy and edible fruit measures 3 to 5 cm. The fruit changes colour, from green to red, as it matures; fruit often remain on the cactus until the next spring. There are 6 to 33 seeds in each fruit; the small seeds are flat and of light color.

Top

Distribution and Population

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus occurs in the United States from New England and Wisconsin south to Texas and Florida. In Canada, it only occurs in southwestern Ontario. By 1985, the plant was only found in Point Pelee National Park (where the population was fairly extensive and consisted of thousands of plants), and three other locations where the populations were small and vulnerable. Since then, the plants at two of the small sites have been determined to be transplants from Point Pelee. The third small site is in a very precarious state. The Point Pelee population appears to be in very good condition, but it is not known whether the population in the Park has declined, increased or remained stable.

Top

Habitat

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus grows in dry sandy areas that are in the early stages of succession, usually sandy ridges or sandy dunes. Habitat changes that are detrimental to the cactus on Pelee Island and in Point Pelee Park are mainly habitat losses due to winter storms and natural succession by woody vegetation that shades out the cactus.

Top

Biology

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus flowers in June. This plant does not tolerate shade. Reproduction occurs mostly through seeds. It is believed that insects are the main pollinators of the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. Small mammals, especially rabbits, are the main dispersers of the seeds.

Top

Threats

Loss of habitat is the most important limiting factor for the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. Habitat loss is due to both natural factors (shoreline erosion, especially during winter storms, and natural succession by woody vegetation) and human factors (trampling, logging, plantation activities, agricultural activity, leveling of sand dunes and use of fertilizers and herbicides). The collection of specimens for horticultural purposes is also posing a threat to the Canadian populations of the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus occurs in Point Pelee National Park, where it is protected by the Canada National Parks Act. It is also protected by the Ontario Endangered Species Act in specific locations. Under this Act, it is prohibited to kill, harm, harass, or collect this species, or to destroy its habitat.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

Top

Recovery Team

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus - Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannas

  • Vicki McKay - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
    Phone: 519-322-2365  Fax: 519-322-1277  Send Email

Top

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

13 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

  • Implementation Report: Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016 to 2021) (2022-01-07)

    This document reports on implementation of the Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada between 2016 and 2021. It reports on implementation of measures identified in the plan, assesses progress towards meeting site-based population and distribution objectives, and evaluates socio-economic impacts.
  • Report on the Implementation of the Recovery Strategy for Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada (2010 to 2017) (2018-02-19)

    The final Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada was posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry on November 30, 2010. The recovery strategy included objectives for the species and approaches to attain the objectives. Under section 46 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent minister must report on the implementation of the recovery strategy and on the progress towards meeting its objectives five years after it is included on the registry and in every subsequent five-year period, until its objectives have been achieved or the species’ recovery is no longer feasible. This document, prepared with support from Ontario Parks - Southwest Zone, reports on the implementation of the Recovery Strategy for Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada from 2010 through 2017, and the progress towards meeting its objectives.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the eastern prickly pear cactus Optunia humifusa in Canada (1998-05-01)

    Eastern Prickly Pear (Optunia humifusa) is a low, spreading, succulent cactus with jointed, roundish but flattened green stems. Leaves are generally absent but the stems are sparsely covered with clusters of barbed bristles and spines. Large, waxy, yellow flowers with red centres appear in June. The edible fruit are oblong and turn red when mature. Prickly Pear occurs as small patches or large scattered colonies of thousands of stems.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia humifusa in Canada (2010-09-03)

    Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is a low prostrate succulent, forming clumps usually only one or two stem segments tall. Stem segments are fleshy or firm and become wrinkled under water stress. Stems are sparsely covered with clusters of barbed bristles and spines. Flowers appear in June. They are large, waxy and yellow, at times orangey-yellow or reddish at the base of petals. The fruits are oblong and turn brownish-red when mature. The species occurs as small patches or large scattered colonies of thousands of stems.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment Summary and Status Report: Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia humifusa (2010-09-03)

    Assessment Summary – April 2010 Common name Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Scientific name Opuntia humifusa Status Endangered Reason for designation This cactus of sandy habitats is restricted in Canada to two very small locations in extreme southwestern Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie. The two native populations are primarily at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to vegetation succession and shoreline erosion. Stochastic events could readily eliminate the population on Pelee Island consisting only of a few plants. Occurrence Ontario Status history Designated Endangered in April 1985. Status re-examined and confirmed Endangered in April 1998, May 2000, and April 2010. Please note that the related COSEWIC Status Report is available below in PDF format. You will be asked to provide your e-mail address then you will receive a link to download the publication. After processing, your email address is not retained in any way and is automatically discarded by our system.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (2010-12-02)

    This cactus of sandy habitats is restricted in Canada to two very small locations in extreme southwestern Ontario along the north shore of Lake Erie. The two native populations are primarily at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to vegetation succession and shoreline erosion. Stochastic events could readily eliminate the population on Pelee Island consisting only of a few plants.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) in Canada (2010-11-30)

    The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is a perennial, low-spreading, succulent cactus with jointed, rounded, but flattened, green stems measuring 5 to 12 cm in length. Stem segments are fleshy or firm, and sparsely covered with clusters of barbed bristles and spines. It occurs in small patches or large, scattered colonies of thousands of stems. An Endangered plant species in Canada, it reaches the northern edge of its range in the southern tip of Ontario. It occurs there in two protected areas: two native populations in Point Pelee National Park and one in Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve on Pelee Island. These populations are threatened mainly by loss and degradation of suitable habitat and by collection. In Canada, the species is limited to dry, sandy substrates, typically dunes, that are in the early stages of succession in habitats known collectively as Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannas. The first version of this recovery strategy was originally posted in 2010. The current version posted here has been amended, as per Section 45 of the Act, from the first version, to include some additional language regarding Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 (2010-09-03)

    Under Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. During the past year, COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings and reviewed the status of 79 wildlife species (species, subspecies, populations). During the meeting of November 2009, COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of the status of 28 wildlife species. COSEWIC assessed or reviewed the classification of an additional 51 wildlife species (species, subspecies and populations) during their April 2010 meeting. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2009-2010 reporting period include the following: Extirpated: 6 Endangered: 39 Threatened: 16 Special Concern: 17 Data Deficient: 1 This report transmits to the Minister the status of 46 species newly classified as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern, fulfilling COSEWIC’s obligations under SARA Section 24 and 25. A full detailed summary of the assessment for each species and the reason for the designation can be found in Appendix I of the attached report. Since its inception, COSEWIC has assessed 602 wildlife species in various risk categories, including 262 Endangered, 151 Threatened, 166 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated. In addition, 13 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct. Also, to date, 46 wildlife species have been identified by COSEWIC as Data Deficient and 166 wildlife species were assessed as Not at Risk. This year has been a particularly productive year for COSEWIC’s Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) Subcommittee. In April 2010 COSEWIC approved the Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Process and Protocol Guidelines, providing clear and agreed principles for the gathering of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to carry out COSEWIC functions as required under Section 15(2) of SARA (See Appendix III of the attached report). We are grateful for the rich and enthusiastic contribution made by community elders and experts in helping the ATK Subcommittee prepare the ATK protocols.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#10-01-55688), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2010-09-06)

    The Visitor Centre at Point Pelee National Park was identified in a study as one of six priority sites requiring a change in the septic system in order to reduce the environmental impacts on ground water quality. In 2010/2011, a contractor will replace the septic system with a new, more environmentally sound one. Most of the work will take place within the existing footprint; however, it may necessary to do some excavation and/or vegetation removal beyond that boundary. There are 3 Eastern prickly-pear cacti (Opuntia humifusa) located in a 3m2 area of the existing septic field which will be impacted by this work.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2019-02), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-09-04)

    Point Pelee National Park's (PPNP) Integrated Vegetation Management Plan (2012) provides objectives, guidelines, and strategies for managing vegetation. This plan states the restoration of Lake Erie Sand Spit Savannah (LESSS) habitats is one of the top vegetation conservation priorities for the park. The LESSS is a globally-rare ecosystem that is important habitat for 15 of the federally listed species at risk found in the park. The Restoration of the LESSS will involve 1) mechanical removal of invasive, exotic and native shrubs and trees; 2) prescribed fires in selected areas, brush piles, and/or spot burning invasive, exotic, herbaceous vegetation; 3) hand pulling of invasive, alien, herbaceous vegetation; 4) using herbicides to reduce and/or control invasive, exotic, herbaceous vegetation and to treat the stumps of mechanically removed and/or girdled shrubs/trees; Site specific activities may vary and details are included in each site restoration plan for which individual impact assessments have been conducted. These activities are expected to incidentally harm or kill individuals of Dwarf Hackberry, Hoptree Borer, Five-lined Skink and Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – November 2010 (2010-12-02)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 4, 2011 for species undergoing normal consultations and by February 4, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

Date modified: