|Giant Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia robusta|
Photo Taken February 2, 2006. Arrowhead Ranch.
|Giant Prickly Pear Flower.|
Of Genus Opuntia.
|Giant Prickly Pear.|
Opuntia robusta Pear Fruit.
|Giant Prickly Pear Cactus.|
Plenty of Water.
|Giant Prickly Pear Cactus.|
Not Enough Water.
Giant Prickly Pear Cactus.
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Opuntia like many others is a trouble free plant to maintain. It is extremely drought tolerant, cold hardy and a fast grower. Extra water during the dry summer months is encouraged but seldom needed. It is easily attacked by the cactus beetle, and can be infested by Cochineal insects that can eventually kill or damage the stems. Extra care should be given to avoid those predators.
The fruit is a big favorite among the bird population during August.
This familiar paddle-shaped, needle-infested pads form chains as they grow across the desert floor. When the pads have contact with the soil underneath, they will sometimes separate from the mother plant and take root on their own. The pads then grow outward, the new plants forming pokey clusters of cacti 3 feet high and up to 20 feet around.
Prickly pears grow prostrate or spread out along the ground. Ranchers and farmers in the Southwest used to plant them to form living fences. They grew in clusters and all one had to do was break off a pad from a living plant and shove it into the earth, and a new plant would grow. Best of all, the vicious spines kept just about anything – man or livestock – from crossing the barrier. Red-brown and flattened, the spines grow in separated clusters that become denser at the top of the pad.
All species of prickly pear also have glochids. These tiny needle-like protrusions grow hidden at the top of the spine clusters, often disguised by soft-looking fuzzy patches. So small that you can hardly see them, these yellow and red needles stick easily into prying fingers and are difficult to remove.
Like other cacti, the prickly pear is a succulent. It stores water in the flesh of its pads to survive in the arid heat of the desert. During droughts ranchers burn off the spines and feed prickly pears to their livestock. Because they contain so much water, they can even replace the animals’ drinking water. Sheep have been known to survive on nothing but prickly pear for up to 8 months.
The pads of the prickly pear are actually modified branches or stems. They store the water, carry on photosynthesis and produce flowers. Distinctive of the brown-spined prickly pear, the pads are bluish-green in color and oblong in shape. They grow between 4 to 6 inches wide. Sometime in May or June the prickly pears bloom. The yellow flowers often have red streaks around the base and grow to about 3 to 4 inches wide. Each pad produces several flowers, and when the blooms fade they give way to red, fleshy fruit. The fruit will stay on the plant until it is picked by man, animal or bird.
Both the fruit and the pads of the prickly pear are edible and used in many ways. People enjoy the fruit raw or cooked, boiled into jelly, or even fermented to make alcohol. The fruits are called cactus pears, prickly pears or tunas. Full of tiny black seeds that are edible, many Native Americans would dry out the seeds and grind them into pastry flour. The pads, called nopales, are also eaten raw or cooked.
Named for its pear-like shape and size, Prickly pear fruit comes from any of several varieties of cacti. Its prickly skin can range in color from green to purplish-red; it's soft, porous flesh (scattered with black seeds) from light yellow-green to deep golden. Also called cactus pear, the prickly pear has a melon-like aroma and a sweet but rather bland flavor. It's extremely popular in Mexico, Central and South America, the Mediterranean countries and southern Africa, and is slowly gaining favor in the United States. Prickly pears are available in Mexican markets and some specialty produce markets from fall through spring. Choose fruit that gives slightly to palm pressure. It should have a deep, even color. Ripen firm prickly pears at room temperature until soft. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to a week. Prickly pears are usually served cold, peeled and sectioned with the seeds removed.
Native Peoples also found other parts of the cactus useful. The strong skin fibers of the pads were dried and woven into baskets, mats and fans. The large spines made good toothpicks, needles and pins. Even the woody skeletons left after the flesh dried was used to make furniture and to construct houses.
Prickly Pears grow in dry, rocky slopes and flats as well as forests and mountain foothills. Ranging in elevation from 0 to 8,000 feet,
Height: This plant can reach around 18 feet in height and 10 or more feet in width.
Flowers: Flowers on this species are typically pure yellow, large and very showy. Sometimes variations of the flower color can occur which is not rare.
Fruit: The fruit is from green to purplish-red; it's soft, porous flesh (scattered with black seeds) from light yellow-green to deep golden. Also called cactus pear, the prickly pear has a melon-like aroma and a sweet but rather bland flavor. I have even made wine out of this fruit.
Blooming Time: April - June.
Jointed Stalks or Leaves: Up to twelve inches long and about eight inches in diameter, generally heavily thorned with plentiful sharp spines; gold or straw colored; from a distance the spines give the illusion of a soft or fuzzy appearance. Cactus thorns are modified leaves. Their shape conserves water and adds protection to the cactus plant.
Spines: White of a golden color, forming dense clusters along the ribs. They are large and slightly hooked.
Trunk: Upright, trunk-forming segmented cactus, usually single trunked; trunk straight and dark; attractive gold color overall.
Found: Native to the tropical deciduous forests in northern, central, & southern Mexico. In Northern Mexico: the states of: - Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas. In southern Mexico: the states of: - Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Mexico, Queretaro. The USDA claims it is native to the USA (AZ). In La Paz, & Pima Counties.
Elevation: 0 to 8,000 feet. In native areas.
Hardiness: Only recommended to Zone 9a in the USA.
Soil pH requirements:
Habitat: Lower elevations sandy flats. It grows well in sand, sandy loam. It needs good drainage and aeration. Native found in the tropical deciduous forests of Central Mexico. It is also found in sandy desert, and gravel slopes in the deserts and grass lands. A common xeriscape landscape plant in Arizona.
Miscellaneous: Maintenance: Low. Photos Taken At Arrowhead Ranch, Glendale, Arizona. February 2, 2006.
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