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spring Prickly Pear cactus gets stunning bright
yellow flowers which turn into red prickly pears. They are edible
- and delicious!
Cactus pears have the texture of
a mild pear taste. They are high in fiber too. The seeds
are black and about the size of a pea.
You can also eat the pads;
raw in salads or
salsa or cooked. Prickly pears grow up to 12 feet tall
and as wide. Most opuntia varieties are cold hardy to 30 degrees
The cactus pads do not have prominent thorns. The thorns are small,
and not something you want in your skin! I recommend using tongs
handle them, or leather gloves or all of the above. I've also
Cacti were commonly planted around the California missions and other
early structures. They were used as a source of food, fibers and
My cactus came from a cutting my neighbor threw over
the fence for me because the pears were so good. I let it root
where it fell on the ground - without planting. This is year five
for the rooted plant and I need to cut it back before it takes over the
Outdoors, prickly pears look
especially good in silhouette against a
sunset. They also make very effective security barriers.
They can take regular pruning to maintain shape. Always cut at
the joints, where the two pads meet. Cuttings can easily be
rooted by burying part of a pad in moist, well drained soil.
Opuntia species have also been known to take root where pads have
fallen on the ground.
Indoors, Opuntia cactus can be grown in pots but they generally
don't grow to more than a few feet tall. They do best in full
sunlight with very little water. No cacti like to be over watered
and they will rot if they remain in saturated soil. Water
sparingly and improve soil drainage in areas that receive a lot of
rain. My cactus lets me know when it needs water with thin pads
and droopy tips. One year we got over 20 inches of rain and the
pads swelled up with so much moisture they broke off under their own
How to Grow and Eat
Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia
useful in the landscape for dramatic impact, adding a southwestern feel
to any landscape. Opuntia cactus also have edible pads and
provide the red cactus pears of commerce. This cactus variety
grows wild in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Prickly
pear cactus have deep green branching pads, grow up to 15 feet tall and
as wide around in as little as 5 years. The oval (edible) pads
be up to three feet long and over a foot across.
and Harvest Prickly Pears
In spring Opuntia ficus-indica gets stunning bright yellow to orange
flowers measuring 3 to 5 inches across. These turn into pinkish
red, edible prickly pears. Over time these cacti form brown,
Most optuna varieties are not fussy about
conditions, are cold hardy to 30 degrees below zero and many also have
edible pears and pads. Cattle are also known to have a taste for
cactus and in some parts of the world it is used as feed.
The cactus pads do not have prominent thorns. Instead, they have
clumps of small, hair-like needles. It is very easy to get the
needles painfully lodged in your skin just by brushing against the
pads. Usually the only way to get them out is with tweezers and a
It is recommend to use tongs, a large fork, or
cardboard to handle any part of cactus. You should also wear
leather gloves or two layers of cotton gloves. The gloves will
need to be checked for thorns though, so you may want to avoid handling
cacti using your hands.
When ripe, cactus pear color can range from deep red to orange.
Cactus pears have the texture of watermelon and a mild, sweet taste
like pears or banana. They are high in fiber too. The seeds
are black and about the size of a pea. You can also eat the pads
raw or cooked. Young, bright green cactus pads are best for
eating. Thorns should be washed or scraped off before the thick
skin is peeled.
Prickly pear cactus are not only beautiful, but
a useful addition to any drought tolerant landscape.
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