Cactus vs Opuntia: Difference and Comparison

Cactus is a very strange type of plant because it is highly affected by environmental conditions. Yet it is loved by a fair amount of people that they like to keep this in their houses for decorative purposes. There are many types of cacti and opuntia is one of them.

Key Takeaways

  1. Opuntia is a type of cactus, but not all cacti are Opuntia.
  2. Cacti have spines, while Opuntia has glochids (small, hair-like prickles).
  3. Opuntia is used in various culinary applications, while most cacti are not edible.

Cactus vs Opuntia

A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, characterized by its succulent nature and found in desert environments. Opuntia, also known as prickly pear, is a specific genus within the cactus family, recognized by its flat, paddle-shaped stems and spiny fruit.

Cactus vs Opuntia

Cactus is a unique type of plant that is grown in the desert because it requires dry and hot areas. The central part of a cactus is thick and it is called the stem.

Cactus has sharp prickles and not a single leaf. The plural form of a cactus is cacti and some people like to keep them in their houses as well.

Opuntia is another type of plant that belongs to the same family as the cactus. Opuntia is also known as pear cactus and pear cactus.

Opuntia is known to store a large amount of water in its pads because it has shallow roots. Opuntia uses this water to survive in hot and dry areas for a longer period.

Comparison Table

Parameters Of ComparisonCactusOpuntia
MeaningCactus is a plant associated with the deserts and has many sharp thrones and beautiful flowers as well. Opuntia is a type of cactus grown into pads and has a red crown on the top of it.
Scientific nameThe scientific name given to the plant known as cactus is Cactaceae. Opuntia is the scientific name that is used in the place of Prickly pear.
FlowersCactus is one the best species when it comes to flowers, it produces the most beautiful flowers. Opuntia has the most captivating flowers that can have multiple colors such as yellow, orange, and red.
ShapeWhen it comes to shape, the Cactus has a wide range to represent from single pad to tallest stems. Opuntia grows in the form of large fleshy pads known as cladodes that resembles a cup.
HabitatCactus is found in arid, dry, and hot places and deserts across the world. Opuntia is mostly found around the Peace River of Canada and to the point of South America.

What is Cactus?

Cactus is a member of the family known as Cactaceae and is found mostly in deserts. The Cactaceae family includes about 1750 known species that are spread worldwide.

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A cactus has a wide range of sizes and shapes. The most common habitats of cacti are reigns under the influence of drought while some species can be grown up in the humid environment.

Cactus has thick and wide parts that appear to be fleshy and are used to contain water in the pads of it. The salient process of growth occurs in the stem of the cactus which makes it a type of succulent.

The process of photosynthesis is also carried out by the stem of the cactus. Cacti have only consisted of the spine and there is no trace of leaves.

Yet some experts say that these spines are highly modified leaves that seem unusual. The question, ‘when did humans start to use cacti?’ has always been controversial since there are many opinions about that.

Some researchers found an archaeological site located in Chile and said that was around 15,000 years old.

There are quite a few species of cacti that have been claimed to be edible and some of them are cholla cactus, dragon fruit cactus, saguaro cactus, barrel cactus, etc. Cactus can be eaten both raw and cooked.

cactus

What is Opuntia?

Opuntia is another type of cactus and a member of the Cactaceae family. The other terms used to refer to opuntia are tuna, nopal, sabra, prickly pear, etc.

The name Opuntia has been derived from an ancient city of Greece known as Opus. Opuntia is divided into segments and has a red-colored crown on the head.

The size of the Opuntia plant can go up to 16 to 23 feet which makes 5 to 7 meters and the diameter of the crown can be about 1 meter.

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Opuntia consists of large pads known as cladodes that can be green and green-blue. These cladodes are containers of water and some of these can have spines while some of them are spineless.

These fleshy pads have glochids, a name of prickle that looks like hair. Opuntia produces beautiful flowers that are large and bisexual. The growth of Opuntia starts from a bud that grows onto the surface of cladodes of the previous plant.

Then this small reddish bud grows into a brand new pad and this is how this infinite loop keeps going on. Opuntia pads are edible and contain vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, C, E, and various other minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, potassium, etc.

opuntia

Main Differences Between Cactus and Opuntia

  1. Other names used to denote Cactus are cactoid, succulent, peyote, etc. On the other hand, Opuntia is also known as a prickly pear.
  2. When it comes to size, the maximum height of a cactus can be 18 meters while the size of Opuntia is almost 5 to 7 meters.
  3. Some of the species of cactus can be highly poisonous and should not be consumed while the pads of Opuntia are cooked in certain countries.
  4. Cactus can be seen everywhere because people like to grow them in their houses while Opuntia is found in places around the Peace River of Canada.
  5. When it comes to size, the cactus wins since it can be very huge while Opuntia is a smaller type of cactus that spreads horizontally.
Difference Between Cactus and Opuntia
References
  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=B1NEgtRguQMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA24&dq=cactus&ots=1SwEJmgVU8&sig=eGntUEH31dJIEBbLWHrXjRYQ9KM
  2. https://www.jpacd.net/jpacd/article/view/159

Last Updated : 16 July, 2023

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