Prickly Pear Cactus Profile

Q.What did one prickly pear cactus say to the other prickly pear cactus?
A. If you get prickly with me, Opuntia right in the Glochids!

Heh, heh, heh…I don’t know if you humans get our kind of humor, but there it is. Hi, the name’s Pear, Prickly Pear. I’m a cactus. I come from the Cactaceae Family, aka Cactus Family. We got our name from the Greek word kaktos, which means “prickly plant.” With this family, I’m part of the Opuntia species. Now you get part of the joke, right? My people have fairly large spines all over us as a form of protection. We also have a second line of defense in that we have very small, brown, hairlike prickly things coming out of us that you can barely see, called Glochids. Ah, now you get the other part of the joke. These glochids, if you don’t know any better, look benign. They are actually quite painful and can be difficult to remove from your skin. Some might say they’d prefer getting pricked by one of the large spikes.

I’m the only Prickly Pear plant left on this acre in Texas since the Hoffmans removed everyone but me from the property. They didn’t like our spikes and glochids, so they figured they’d just tear us all up by the roots. Except me because I escaped. Once discovered, I was no longer considered a threat. You see, I’m entirely edible. You can eat my flowers, which are very beautiful as you can see in this picture. Ah, and there’s my good friend the grasshopper hanging out with me during a visit. Love that little guy.

So right now I’m in bloom here in Texas. My first flowers have recently burst forth and I have other young buds who will have their day before long as well. In this photo of one of my flowers, you can see the many yellow stamens and the green pistil in the middle.

Also, you can peel the prickly stuff off my pads and either cook them, or you can dehydrate them into a jerky.

Here’s a picture of my fruit before it has ripened.

When my fruits ripen, turning purple, you can burn off the spikes and glochids and eat my fruit raw or you can make jellies or smoothies or other tasty delights out of them. My fruit tastes very good, kind of like a cross between watermelon and kiwi. It has a nice, mellow taste. (The picture is of my neighbor from across the fence last summer).

Most people associate my kind with the Southwest, but members of my family live as far north as Canada. In the cold regions I don’t bloom until summertime. In Mexico I’m very popular and well-appreciated. I produce many pads and fruits for the Mexican people and they enjoy them immensely. In Texas, my family is so populous that the Texas people made us the state plant in 1995. The people that you call the Native Americans have enjoyed consuming our produce for thousands of years.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this talk above anything else, it’s that cactus, although we are indeed prickly, are a plant you can love.

Resources:

State Symbols USA Website
http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/Texas/Prickly_Pear_Cactus.html

Merriwether’s Guide to Foraging Texas Website
http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/09/prickly-pear.html

“Nature’s Garden” by Samuel Thayer

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