Summary of Coastal Prickly Pear and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: ‘ehpaa

Coastal Prickly Pear (Opuntia littoralis)


Coastal prickly pear is native to southern California and Baja California, where it grows in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats. It generally grows in dense clumps spreading several feet wide. The branches are made up of oval-shaped flat segments (pads) up to 8 ½ inches long, and covered in clusters of yellowish spines. The flowers are yellow or red and bloom in the spring. The edible fruit is purplish red, reaching up to 2 inches long. This is an important plant for wildlife. 


The fruits are collected in June and July and rolled, brushed, or shaken in an agave fiber carrying net to remove spines and then eaten fresh or dried. When green, the fruits are cooked like a pumpkin. The young green pads are boiled or fried. The blossom and seeds are also eaten. After the seeds are winnowed out, they are stored to be made into flour. The cactus spine is used in tattooing.



The fruit of the coastal prickly pear

photo credit: Nandaro, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons