Thursday, May 18, 2017

They don't call it Prickly Pear for nothin'.

Photo of Prickly Pear cactus flower

Opuntia ficus-indica (aka Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Nopal) is a perennial, evergreen cactus probably native to Mexico, but is found growing in many arid, warmer climates around the world. It grows from 4 to 20 feet tall, depending on growing conditions. It forms clumps of flattened pads, which are actually modified stems. Its pads are medium to grayish green. Clusters of sharp hairs known as glochids appear on the pads. The flowers are bright yellow, lasting for only one day. Fruit is pear-shaped, fleshy, and purple when mature. The pulp is reddish-purple with tiny, brownish seeds.
Opuntia ficus-indica fruit
Opuntia likes dry, well-drained, and sandy to rocky soil. It prefers full sun, tolerates heat and some cold, and will take some light shade.

The plant is cultivated for its fruits and pads which are used for food, medicine, condiments and beverages. Foods include nopalitos, prickly pear honey, prickly pear cheese, colonche – a fermented drink. Medicinal uses are said to include tea for kidney disease, flower paste for measles, and cancer treatment.

Prickly Pear has also been used for cattle feed. Large hedge-rows have been used for fencing, marking boundaries, and discouraging intruders.

Name(s): Opuntia ficus-indica, Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Nopal

Flower Color: Yellow.

Bloom Time: Spring

Foliage: Succulent, paddle/pear-shaped modified stems.

Height/Spread: 4 feet to 20 feet x 5 to 10 feet.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, pH 6.1 to 7.7

Features: Drought tolerant, sculptural form, large yellow flowers, edible fruit and foliage.

Uses: Xeriscaping, succulent gardens, edible gardens, medicinal gardens, rock gardens, home security.

Comments: When planted as a hedge, Prickly Pear makes one helluva barrier against intruders. Planted around the home they are superb for homeland security.

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