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Why Are Some Cacti Purple?

Purple Prickly Pear Cactus - Victors Landscaping

Have you ever been so cold, your fingernails turn purple? It’s kind of like that with cacti. A purple color in cacti is caused by cool and dry conditions. Turning purple is the plant’s way of responding to environmental stress. Succulents, agave, and aloe varieties also turn reddish, burgundy, or purple when exposed to stress. Whether this indicates a normal part of the life cycle or a cry for help depends on the severity of the stress.

Should I Worry If My Desert Plants Turn Purple?

In general, seasonal color change can be expected. Milder, warmer winters might not trigger any color change, while cooler winters are more likely to cause cacti to turn purple. You can plan and design a landscape that plays with seasonal color.

All living things have their limits, and can cope with a reasonable amount of extreme conditions. If the temperature dips below your plant’s hardiness, consider frost protection.

Purple Prickly Pear Varieties

The purple prickly pear, or Santa Rita cactus, adds interest year-round. It goes by many scientific names, including Opuntia macrocentra, Opuntia violecea, and Opuntia santa-rita. With purple pads in winter, yellow flowers in spring, and magenta fruit in the summer, it signals our seasons as beautifully as the aspen trees up north.

Purple prickly pear is extremely low maintenance and drought tolerant. As a native species, it attracts desert insects, birds, and animals by providing food and shelter. The only pest problem for purple prickly pear is cochineal scale. These white spots are left by insects, which can be easily taken care of by hosing off the pads. It looks its best when planted in full sun and well-drained soil.

Safe Handling of Prickly Pear

The only drawback to prickly pear is right in the name. If you’re not careful when handling the pads, you can ruin a good pair of gloves. The spineless appearance of Santa Rita cactus is deceptive: while it doesn’t feature long spines like some opuntia, it makes up for it with tiny red glochids. We highly recommend sparing yourself the ordeal of tweezing those things out of your hands. Victor’s Landscaping will take care of prickly pear planting and maintenance in the greater Phoenix area.

Questions? Call (602) 439-5192 to Talk to a Landscape Specialist

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