Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prickly Pear Cactus

There are dozens of species of prickly pear cactus growing in a variety of ranges and elevations of the American Southwest Deserts. They all have the round flat pads that serve several functions. The pads can store water, produce flowers, and perform photosynthesis. This cactus is laden with the edible red fruit used to make jellies, candies, and nectars. The flat, fleshy pads are also edible and sometimes are cooked in stews and other Native American dishes. There are ongoing studies of the medicinal benefits of this fruit producing cactus. It is believed that the fruit pulp helps to lower bad cholesterol while leaving good cholesterol levels stable. In another study, it is thought that it helps to lower the need for insulin in some diabetics.

I’ve had the jelly and the candies made from the fruit and found it very sweet and quite good. I have never tried the cooked cactus pads. Obviously, harvesting the cactus requires some extra special care to keep from getting stuck by the needle-like spines on the fruit and the round pads.

6 comments:

David -- www.CostaRicaDailyPhoto.com said...

Sharon,
Your photo does a nice job of showing the overall size and shape of the cactus, and the red fruit is displayed well. I hope it gives readers of your site an appreciation for the fact that the desert in Arizona is full of plants and color, unlike many other deserts in the world, like the Sahara, that are mostly barren sand and rocks.

In the spring, the prickly pear has large bright flowers, usually yellow, where the fruit is now located.

One other feature of the prickly pear is that sometimes they spread out and some of the arms get too heavy for the support of the plant and the paddles will break off. If this happens in your yard, you can simply put on a very thick pear of gardening gloves, stick the paddle in the ground or a pot, water it, and you've got a new plant.

Some prickly pear instead of having thorns have small fibers. If you come in contact with the fibers, they get stuck in your skin and are almost impossible to see, but you'll have no trouble feeling where they are.

Ming the Merciless said...

I've tried cactus pear magarita at a Mexican restaurant a couple years ago. I can't remember much of the taste except that it's sweet. :-)

The blooms are quite pretty despite the prickly exterior.

JM said...

As a cactus lover, I like opuntias very much! Here we have some different species living in the wild; they are non-native, but as hundreds of other plants they have adapted quite well. The problem of having them on my terrace along with all the other succulents from my collection is the fact they grow too much...
I have tried them in Mexico where they call them 'nopales' and you can see piles of pre-prepared sections of the cactus at the markets..

Lisa Wilson said...

I love it! I really want to see a saguaro in person. I have never been to Arizona! Hopefully that will change next April, although I'm not sure we'll be south enough to see a saguaro. I guess there aren't any in the Phoenix area?

Laurie said...

What a beautiful shot! I've never tasted this delicacy -- hard to believe, since I grew up in Texas where there are a lot of these things!

Sharon said...

Lisa, there are lots of saguaros in the Phoenix are. If you are going to be in Phoenix, you will get a chance to see at least one and maybe more.