What Is Prickly Pear Cactus

Any of the numerous species of flat-stemmed spiny cactus in the genus Opuntia (family Cactaceae) and its edible fruits are known as prickly pears, also known as nopals. Western Hemisphere natives include prickly pear cacti. Many are grown, particularly the Indian fig (O. ficus-indica), which is a staple food for several populations in tropical and subtropical regions.

The Indian fig can reach a height of 5.5 meters and is bushy to treelike (18 feet). Large yellow blooms of 7.5–10 cm (3–4 inches) across are produced, and these are followed by white, yellow, or reddish purple fruits. It is commonly planted for the fruit, edible paddles, and as a forage crop in warmer climates. An oil is made from the tough seeds. The stems, particularly those of spineless types, are utilized as emergency stock feed during droughts because to their high water content.

What uses does the prickly pear cactus have?

The prickly pear cactus, often referred to as nopal, opuntia, and other names, is marketed as a remedy for hangovers, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. It is also praised for having anti-inflammatory and antiviral qualities.

Is prickly pear cactus edible?

The lower 48 states of the United States are home to the eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa). In addition to being a lovely plant, it is edible, offers sustenance and safety to wildlife, and can be utilized in natural landscaping.

This cactus is simple to locate, especially in Indiana. The prickly pear features flat, fleshy pads (known as cladodes) covered in spiky spines, similar to other spiny succulents. Showy yellow blossoms are produced by the prickly pear.

How to eat a prickly pear

A red, egg-shaped fruit starts to form after flowering. After removing the skin, the fruits can be eaten raw and are edible. The fruit is frequently converted into jams, candies, and other sweets, and some people even eat the plant’s fleshy pads as a snack.

For thousands of years, the prickly pear cactus has been an essential part of Mexican and Central American cuisine. Prickly pears are becoming more popular as food in various areas of the United States.

The nopal, or cactus pad, which is frequently used as a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit, are the only two edible portions of the prickly pear plant.

What do prickly pears taste like?

Cactus pears have a sweet, rather bland flavor that is comparable to melon. The fruit is not technically a member of the pear family, despite its name. It was merely given that name because the prickly fruit looks and acts like a pear.

Where can I find prickly pears?

In Indiana, such as the Kankakee Sands and the Lake Michigan shore dunes, the prickly pear cactus can be found in open sand and arid places.

Another fantastic location to see Indiana’s sole cactus is the lovely Ober Savanna in Starke County.

Prickly pear in your yard

The fact that this native cactus is challenging to manage is unknown to many who like planting it in their backyards. A single plant can develop into a tangled, dense colony very fast.

The best approach to stop the prickly pear from spreading is to plant it in a pot. Purdue Pest & Plant Diagnostics Lab has a few options to get rid of prickly pear from your property if it is already out of control on the cactus.

When handling this lovely native cactus, be sure to use thick gloves. Their long, thorny spines, which can reach a length of several inches, are the least of your concerns. Glochids are painful and challenging to remove because of their hair-like appearance and decreased visibility.

What distinguishes a cactus from a prickly pear?

Ruth Bancroft, who lives in Walnut Creek, is an expert in drought-resistant gardening. She and her crew educate readers once every two weeks.

The distribution of prickly pears, also known as opuntias, is the broadest of any genus in the cactus family, spanning from Canada to Argentina. Despite varying in height from a few inches to being tree-like, they all have a distinctive feature that distinguishes them: flattened oval or circular stem joints.

The plant’s genuine leaves, known as “pads,” resemble little fingers, although people occasionally mistake them for leaves. Opuntias, like other cacti, use their stems for photosynthesis once they momentarily appear on the pads. Only tiny spines appear where leaves would on a more typical plant on opuntias.

When compared to other cactus, prickly pears stand out because of their two distinct types of spines: needlelike ones that mimic those on many other cacti, and very small bristles grouped at the eyes, or “areoles,” on the pads. Other plants do not have the “glochids,” or bristles. They appear harmless, but they are easily dislodged and feature small barbs that pierce the skin. Although they are not harmful, they are annoying and challenging to get rid of. Therefore, take caution if you are near any opuntia.

Although some opuntia species lack needle spines, they do have glochids. Opuntia basilaris, also referred to as the Beavertail cactus, is one of them. It is indigenous to northwest Mexico and the Southwestern United States. It can be found throughout California from the Mojave Desert through the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The plants rarely grow to be taller than a foot, but over time, they can develop into clumps that are several feet broad.

Opuntia basilaris can have a gray-green tint, although it usually has a bluish cast that turns purple in bright light. It is robust, exceptionally tolerant of drought, and simple to grow in well-drained regions. Its pads may wrinkle or pucker in extremely dry conditions, although this is not a cause for concern. When some water reaches the plant, the pads will swell once more.

The Beavertail cactus blooms in the spring, when its enormous magenta flowers make quite a show. Yellow or pink blossoms on plants are not rare, although they are uncommon.

What makes the prickly pear cactus special?

  • Despite having strong spines protecting it, the prickly pear cactus is a soft and mouthwatering delight.
  • Nearly all of the 1,800 species in this family are still alive today.
  • Because of certain antifreeze compounds in its cells, the prickly pear cactus can withstand the subzero temperatures of the north.
  • Early summer sees the production of flowers at the ends of the pads. My cuttings from the Wood County Plant Swap flowered a few weeks after I planted them.
  • If you observe the plant growing in the desert, leave it alone as it is legally protected from being disturbed.

Are prickly pears toxic?

The Prickly Pear, Peyote, San Pedro, Echinopsis Peruviana, Saguaro, Barrel, Euphorbia canariensis, and Cholla cacti are among the most lethal cacti.

Does prickly fruit taste pleasant?

Prickly pear flavor has been compared by some who have had the good fortune to try it to a stunning blend of watermelon and traditional bubble gum (via Spoon University). While not overbearing, the bubble gum flavor gives this fruit just enough kick to transform it into a mind-blowingly delectable treat. According to the cuisine blog The Other Side of the Tortilla, the seeds of the prickly pear are also entirely edible.

Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic reports that the vivid pink prickly pear has a ton of fantastic health advantages. Thanks to anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, the luscious meat is packed with vitamins and nutrients that have been linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing diabetes, and perhaps even treating nasty hangovers. Additionally, it contains potassium, which aids in promoting healthy digestion and cardiovascular and metabolic function (via WebMD). Additionally, prickly pears are a component of various skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products.

Consider giving prickly pears a try if you’re looking for a new fruit to try. It’s gorgeously colored, deliciously juicy, a lot of fun to make and eat, and generally healthy.

Prickly pears are they healthy?

Prickly pears include essential elements for healthy blood pressure, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as vitamin C, which is crucial for a strong immune system ( 6 , 7 ). Additionally, prickly pears include a variety of advantageous plant substances, such as antioxidants including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and pigments.

Possibly Effective for…

  • Diabetes. Some persons can have a 17–46% reduction in blood sugar after a single dose of prickly pear cactus. It is unknown, though, if prolonged daily use may reliably lower blood sugar levels. One variety of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia streptacantha) has roasted stems that may help persons with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. However, this species’ raw or unprocessed stems don’t seem to be effective. Other varieties of the prickly pear cactus don’t seem to work either.
  • Hangover. Before consuming alcohol, taking prickly pear cactus may lessen some hangover symptoms the next day. It appears to considerably lessen dry mouth, anorexia, and nausea. Other hangover symptoms including headache, dizziness, diarrhea, or discomfort do not appear to be lessened by it, either.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • prostate enlargement Men who have an enlarged prostate frequently feel that their bladder is full and have frequent, severe urogenital urges. Taken orally, powdered prickly pear cactus blossoms may help to lessen these symptoms, according to emerging research.
  • high cholesterol that is inherited (familial hypercholesterolemia). According to preliminary studies, people with hereditary high cholesterol can lower their total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels by ingesting the edible pulp of the prickly pear cactus everyday for four weeks while also following a diet.
  • high cholesterol levels. According to preliminary studies, consuming prickly pear cactus edible pulp daily while adhering to a diet can lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in patients with high cholesterol. The level of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, does not appear to be impacted.
  • metabolic disorder According to preliminary research, women with metabolic syndrome who take a special supplement comprising dried prickly pear cactus leaves (NeOpuntia) daily for six weeks do not experience any changes in their blood fat levels.
  • Obesity.
  • Colitis.
  • Diarrhea.
  • treating virus-based illnesses
  • other circumstances

To assess the effectiveness of prickly pear cactus for various uses, more data are required.

According to the following scale, the effectiveness of natural medicines is rated by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

When used as food, prickly pear cactus is LIKELY SAFE. When used orally as medication in the right dosages for a brief length of time, the prickly pear cactus’s leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and standardized extracts are POSSIBLY SAFE.

Mild diarrhea, nausea, an increase in the volume and frequency of stools, bloating, and headaches are some of the negative effects that the prickly pear cactus can produce.

Where can I find prickly pear cacti?

The Cactaceae (Cactus) family includes the eastern prickly pear. There are around 1,800 species in this family, all native to the New World with the possible exception of one or two. With over 150 species in the genus Opuntia, the prickly pears are regarded as an ancient subgroup of the cactus family. It can be found from New Mexico and Montana east to Florida and Massachusetts, and it has the broadest distribution of any American cactus. Additionally, Ontario has it. Eastern prickly pears can grow in a region in big colonies or as a few lone plants. It is frequently referred to as Opuntiacompressa in older botanical manuals.

This species is a typical cactus with a stalk that performs photosynthetic leaf function. Water is also kept in this stem. It can endure the subfreezing conditions of the northern and middle states thanks to specific antifreeze compounds in its cells. The stems, or pads as they are more commonly known, can range in size from 4 to 12 centimeters (1.5 to 5 inches) in width and 5 to 17 centimeters (2 to 7 inches) in length. Pads can be joined in a branching or linear pattern.

Typically, the plants stretch out on the ground and grow little taller than 19 inches (0.5 meters). Some shrub-like plants in Florida can grow up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall.

Areoles, which resemble little dots, are scattered throughout the pads. Each areole has glochids (tiny barbs that hurt and irritate the skin when inserted), and the middle of the areole may or may not have a spine. At the tip of newly formed or actively expanding pads, there may occasionally be a little green structure paired with each areole. These are genuine leaves, but they will soon disappear.

Early summer sees the production of flowers at the ends of the pads. They are typically yellow, although the center of them is frequently crimson to orange east of the Appalachian Mountains and on dunes. In contrast to some other species, including the Indian Fig, Opuntia ficus-indica, the flesh of the reddish fruits is edible but typically not very sweet.

This cactus typically grows on calcareous rock or thin soil in wide-open, arid environments. It grows in or on fencerows, roadsides, prairie, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, abandoned quarries, and dunes. Well-drained grounds are essential since the roots need to remain dry during the winter to avoid decay.