Prickly Pear cactus grows best in zones 7-10. It grows best in full sunlight. The soil should be well-drained and gravelly. It should be planted 6 feet apart, as it can grow 3 feet high and 6 feet wide. Opuntia Blooms in the summer and produces yellow or pink flowers. It grows in clumps. Opuntia should not be over watered because it can promote root rot. Gloves should be worn when they are handled because the needles are sharp. They do not need additional fertilizer when planted outdoors. If the green color starts to fade or the plant does not bloom, then it should be given fertilizer. It is normal for prickly pear cactus to shrink in the winter season (1). It is suitable for xeriscaping because it is drought tolerant. Xeriscaping is a way of landscaping by using plants that are native and drought-resistant to cut down on the usage of water (3).
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
The Aztecs would use juice from the prickly pear to treat burns or they would drink it to treat hepatitis. Recently, a correlation was found between eating the fruit from the prickly pear cactus and controlling diabetes (4). The cactus paddles can be added to salads or stews. They are rich in vitamins and calcium. Today, they are used to treat toothaches, kidney stones, burns, and urinary tract inflammation (2). The juice from the fruit is also used in jellies and candy. In Malta, the Bajtra liqueur is made from prickly pear (6).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Prickly Pear cactus is native to Mexico. The name of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlàn, means 'place of the prickly pear cactus.' The Mexican flag also depicts an eagle that is mounted on a prickly pear cactus, which harkens back to an Aztec myth (5). The prickly pear is also known as 'tuna' which is the Haitian name for the plant. It is a staple in Mexican and Mexican-American diets and throughout history has been used in Mexico as the lifeblood of ancient cultures in the region, providing food for both people and animals throughout the year (especially during droughts). (5)
1. “Prickly Pear Cactus: genus Opuntia.” Desert USA. http://www.desertusa.com/cactus/prickly-pear-cactus.html
2. “Prickly Pear Cactus.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-880-PRICKLY%20PEAR%20CACTUS.aspx?activeIngredientId=880&activeIngredientName=PRICKLY%20PEAR%20CACTUS
3. “Prickly Pear Cactus.” Better Homes and Gardens. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/prickly-pear-cactus/
4. Torres, Eliseo. Healing with Herbs and Rituals: a Mexican Tradition. Edited by Timothy L. Sawyer, Jr. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
5. Davidow, Joie. Infusions of Healing: A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1999