Ball Cactus, Pincushion Cactus


This inhabitant of the dry prairie forms spiny cushions 3–20 cm across. It can produce flowers when the plant is so small that its blossom is bigger than it is. Flowers are purple- red, and 3–5 cm across. In fall the ripe fruit becomes sweet and juicy and reminiscent of kiwi. They are especially sweet after a light frost, and anyone who has ever eaten one knows that First Nations people would have found them a tasty treat, too.


Growth habit and range: This is a low growing, cushion-like plant which is commonly found on south-facing hillsides and open sites in the southeastern portion of the province.

Description: This succulent plant displays stout, thick stems or cylindrical tubercles from which arise a cluster of 3–8 red-brown, radiating, main spines, each measuring 12–20 mm in length, and 10–20 smaller, and more slender, marginal spines. The tubercles function as stems and the spines are modified leaves.

The flowers arise between the tubercles and each measures 3–5 cm in diameter. Each flower is comprised of many fuchsia to deep red petals, many greenish sepals and many central, yellow stamens. The flowers appear from June to August, but each blossom lasts only one or two days. The fruit is a green, grape-like berry measuring 1–2 cm in length, which ripens in late September and is edible. The berry contains many small (1–2 mm), brown seeds.