General: perennial, stems usually 1, spherical or almost so, up to 5 cm tall, covered with many fleshy, nipple-like, spirally arranged tubercles that are nearly cylindrical except for 8 grooves. A cluster of rigid spines grow radiate, spreading and flat, from an area called the aerole at the tip of each tubercle. Each cluster has 1 main spine 9-12 mm long and 10-20 smaller, slender marginal spines, the spines are all white.
Flowers: about 2.5 cm long, greenish-yellow or dull whitish to sometimes reddish-tinged, with many pointed petals, spreading to more or less upright. Flowers solitary at the base of the groove on the inner side of the mature tubercles somewhat back from the stem tip. The ovary is not spine-tipped.
Fruits: berries, somewhat fleshy, almost spherical, less than 1 cm long, pale green, eventually somewhat reddish.
Valleys and hills of the desert and grasslands, in w., c. and n.e. parts of MT. Also mainly e. of the Rocky Mts., from Manitoba to KS, CO and c. ID.
Pincushion cactus fruits are juicy, sweet and edible, and they do not require peeling. They were eaten as a confection by the Blackfoot Indians. The fleshy inner pulp of the stems can provide an emergency source of liquid.
Our specimen belong to var. missouriensis (Sweet) D.R. Hunt.
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