The large green oval vegetative structures or pads are actually flattened photosynthetic stems that are covered with a waxy cuticle enabling the plants to withstand long periods of drought. Following pollination, the flower gives way to a large juicy fruit. Native Americans boil the fruit into a highly prized sauce. A related species, Opuntia cochenillifera, is cultivated because it attracts cochineal insects (scale insects). These insects are ground up to produce carmine dye which is a pigment used for food coloring and paints.
DISTRIBUTION: Many habitats from the Outer South Coast Ranges to the San Bernardino and E Peninsular Ranges to the Sonoran Desert and mt. ranges of the Desert Province; 45-2220 m.