Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)

As a transplant from Ohio in midwestern/eastern America, cactus were very alien to me when I first moved to California. I simply hadn’t had any exposure to them. That said, I have developed an affinity for them over the years, whether in the dramatic saguaro of Arizona or our own native Opuntia or PricklyPear Cactus (La Tuña, in Spanish) They look so threatening and aggressive normally, but when it flower they have a dramatic beauty and exuberance. Even better, they produce an edible fruit and nopales (the paddle-lie stems of the cactus) are also sold as a food item here in Los Angeles. They are a bit difficult to harvest and might result in a puncture, scratch or two, but the fruit can be quite tasty.

Interesting Plant: Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)

Discovered via Tumblr user Gorgeous Flowers, Garden and Love

Opuntia is a genus in the cactus familyCactaceae.

The most common culinary species is the Indian fig opuntia (O. ficus-indica). Most culinary uses of the term “prickly pear” refer to this species. Prickly pears are also known as tuna (fruit) or nopal (paddle, plural nopales) from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus.

The genus is named for the Ancient Greek city of Opus, where, according to Theophrastus, an edible plant grew which could be propagated by rooting its leaves.[1]

Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures.

Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Americas, but they have been introduced to other parts of the globe. Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico, especially in the central and western regions, and in the Caribbean islands (West Indies). In the United States, prickly pears are native to many areas of the arid Western United States, including the lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains, where species such as Opuntia phaeacantha and Opuntia polyacantha become dominant, and especially in the desert Southwest. Prickly pear cactus is also native to the dry sandhills and sand dunes of the East Coast from Florida to Connecticut/Long Island (Opuntia humifusa). Further north, Opuntia occurs in isolated areas from the southern Great Lakes to southern Ontario. O. humifusa is also a prominent feature of the flora at Illinois Beach State Park, in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, north ofChicago, and of Indiana Dunes State Park southeast of Chicago. —

More information on Opuntia:

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Previously in the Interesting Plant series: 

Interesting Plant is a series from A Gardener’s Notebook blog and podcast that highlights the most interesting plants I find in my Internet and real-world travels — Douglas