Prickly Pear

Opuntia spp.

Cholla

profile iconOpuntia quitensis-IMG 5651
by C T Johansson (CC BY-SA 3.0)
1 of 10
profile iconOpuntia quitensis-IMG 5651
by C T Johansson (CC BY-SA 3.0)
1 of 10
Opuntia is a genus of around 132 species of creeping, perennial, bushy or tree-like cacti in the Cactaceae family. These plants are native to the Americas but widely naturalised in non-native regions. Commonly known as Prickly Pears, they have flattened pad-like stem segments covered with spines and barbed bristles. Flowers are funnel-shaped followed by pear-shaped fleshy and spiny fruits that in some species are edible. Prickly pears typically grow with rounded cladodes, which are flattened stems that resemble and function as leaves and are 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. Charles Darwin was the first to note that these cacti have thigmotactic anthers: when anthers are touched, they curl over, depositing their pollen. This movement can be seen by gently poking the anthers of an open Opuntia flower. In cooler climates, Opuntias can be grown under glass but are not advised as house plants as the spines and bristles can cause severe skin irritation.

Planning

Difficulty

Easy

Flowering time

Spring, Summer

Fruiting time

Summer, Autumn

Harvesting

Harvest the fruits when their skin changes to beautiful yellow or red colour, depending on the variety. Squeeze the prickly pears gently and carefully. If they feel firm, it indicates that the fruits are fully ripe. Wear leather gloves for this step.

Propagation

Division

Use folded newspaper to handle plants, and dispose of it after use.

Special features

Drought resistant

Attractive flowers

Attractive leaves

Special features

Origin

Southwestern USA and Mexico

Environment

Light

Full Sun

Soil moisture

Dry

Soil type

Loam, Sand

Soil PH preference

Neutral

Frost hardiness

Tender

Personality

Family

Cactaceae

Flower colour

Pink, Red, Yellow, Orange

Scent

None

Related Problems