|Monday Melange: Prickly Pear Cactus|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Monday, 10 September 2012|
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa), formerly O. compressa, is a low-growing, spreading cactus that is native to the eastern United States (anywhere east of the Rockies), growing as far north as Massachusetts. Hardy between USDA zones 3 and 9, the prickly pear cactus is one of the 200 species of prickly pear cactuses that are native to the southwestern US, Mexico, and Central America and South America.
Sometimes called devil's tongue, prickly pear cactus grows wild in sandy fields and pastures and in soils derived from limestone and sandstone bedrock. The showy yellow flowers are large, approximately 3 to 4 inches across and bloom in May and June. The edible fruits called tunas, for which the prickly pear cactus is named, are red, pear-shaped, and covered in fine bristles. The large pads or nopales as they are referred to in Mexican cuisine, are covered in spines and tufts of barbed bristles and are also edible, as are the buds and flowers.
Prickly pear cactus prefers full sun and is drought tolerant. It is easily propagated. Simply place the pads on top of or in sandy soil and it will quickly root. Prickly pear cactus is an excellent plant to grow in containers or in a sunny rock garden. It is listed as endangered in Massachusetts, rare in Pennsylvania, of special concern in Connecticut, and exploitably vulnerable in New York.
Photo source: www.delawarewildflowers.org