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Opuntia littoralis var vaseyi 4.jpg
Opuntia littoralis var. vaseyi
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Opuntioideae
Tribe: Opuntieae

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Opuntia, commonly called prickly pear, is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae. [1] Prickly pears are also known as tuna (fruit), sabra, nopal (paddle, plural nopales) from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus. The genus is named for the Ancient Greek city of Opus, where, according to Theophrastus, an edible plant grew and could be propagated by rooting its leaves. [2] The most common culinary species is the Indian fig opuntia (O. ficus-indica).

A genus is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name forms the first part of the binomial species name for each species within the genus.

Cactus Family of mostly succulent plants, adapted to dry environments

A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 127 genera with some 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. The word "cactus" derives, through Latin, from the Ancient Greek κάκτος, kaktos, a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity is not certain. Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Almost all cacti are succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of most cacti where this vital process takes place. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade. In the absence of leaves, enlarged stems carry out photosynthesis. Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from Patagonia in the south to parts of western Canada in the north—except for Rhipsalis baccifera, which also grows in Africa and Sri Lanka.

Family is one of the eight major hierarchical taxonomic ranks in Linnaean taxonomy; it is classified between order and genus. A family may be divided into subfamilies, which are intermediate ranks between the ranks of family and genus. The official family names are Latin in origin; however, popular names are often used: for example, walnut trees and hickory trees belong to the family Juglandaceae, but that family is commonly referred to as being the "walnut family".



Typical morphology of an Opuntia with fruit Prickly Pear Closeup.jpg
Typical morphology of an Opuntia with fruit

O. ficus-indica is a large, trunk-forming, segmented cactus that may grow to 5–7 m (16–23 ft) with a crown of possibly 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter and a trunk diameter of 1 m (3.3 ft). [1] Cladodes (large pads) are green to blue-green, bearing few spines up to 2.5 cm (0.98 in) or may be spineless. [1] Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) containing large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids that readily adhere to skin or hair, then detach from the plant. The flowers are typically large, axillary, solitary, bisexual, and epiperigynous, with a perianth consisting of distinct, spirally arranged tepals and a hypanthium. The stamens are numerous and in spiral or whorled clusters, and the gynoecium has numerous inferior ovaries per carpel. Placentation is parietal, and the fruit is a berry with arillate seeds. Prickly pear species can vary greatly in habit; most are shrubs, but some, such as Opuntia echios of the Galápagos, are trees.


Glochids or glochidia are hair-like spines or short prickles, generally barbed, found on the areoles of cacti in the sub-family Opuntioideae. Cactus glochids easily detach from the plant and lodge in the skin, causing irritation upon contact. The tufts of glochids in the areoles nearly cover the stem surfaces of some cactus species, each tuft containing hundreds of glochids; this may be in addition to, or instead of, the larger, more conspicuous cactus spines, which do not readily detach and are not generally barbed.


The perianth is the non-reproductive part of the flower, and structure that forms an envelope surrounding the sexual organs, consisting of the calyx (sepals) and the corolla (petals). The term perianth is derived from the Greek περί, peri, meaning around, and άνθος, anthos, meaning flower, while perigonium is derived from gonos, meaning seed, i.e. sexual organs. In the mosses and liverworts (Marchantiophyta), the perianth is the sterile tubelike tissue that surrounds the female reproductive structure.


A tepal is one of the outer parts of a flower. The term is used when these parts cannot easily be classified as either sepals or petals. This may be because the parts of the perianth are undifferentiated, as in Magnolia, or because, although it is possible to distinguish an outer whorl of sepals from an inner whorl of petals, the sepals and petals have similar appearance to one another. The term was first proposed by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle in 1827 and was constructed by analogy with the terms "petal" and "sepal".


O. ficus-indica thrives in regions with mild winters having a prolonged dry spell followed by hot summers with occasional rain and relatively low humidity. [1] A mean annual rainfall of 350–500 mm (14–20 in) provides good growth rates. [1] O. ficus-indica proliferates in various soils ranging from subacid to subalkaline, with clay content not exceeding 15-20% and the soil well-drained. [1] The shallow root system enables the plant to grow in shallow, loose soils, such as on mountain slopes. [1] Opuntia spreads into large clonal colonies, which contribute to its being considered a noxious weed in some places. [1] [3]

Acid type of chemical substance that reacts with a base

An acid is a molecule or ion capable of donating a hydron (proton or hydrogen ion H+), or, alternatively, capable of forming a covalent bond with an electron pair (a Lewis acid).

Noxious weed

A noxious weed, harmful weed or injurious weed is a weed that has been designated by an agricultural or other governing authority as a plant that is injurious to agricultural or horticultural crops, natural habitats or ecosystems, or humans or livestock. Most noxious weeds have been introduced into an ecosystem by ignorance, mismanagement, or accident. Some noxious weeds are native. Typically they are plants that grow aggressively, multiply quickly without natural controls, and display adverse effects through contact or ingestion. Noxious weeds are a large problem in many parts of the world, greatly affecting areas of agriculture, forest management, nature reserves, parks and other open space.

Animals that eat Opuntia include the prickly pear island snail and Cyclura rock iguanas. The fruit are relished by many arid-land animals, chiefly birds, which thus help distribute the seeds. Opuntia pathogens include the sac fungus Colletotrichum coccodes and Sammons' Opuntia virus. The ant Crematogaster opuntiae and the spider Theridion opuntia are named because of their association with prickly pear cactus.

<i>Cyclura</i> genus of reptiles

Cyclura is a genus of lizards in the family Iguanidae. Member species of this genus are commonly known as "cycluras" or more commonly as rock iguanas and only occur on islands in the West Indies. Rock iguanas have a high degree of endemism, with a single species or subspecies restricted to individual islands.

In biology, a pathogen, in the oldest and broadest sense, is anything that can produce disease. A pathogen may also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a germ.

<i>Colletotrichum coccodes</i> species of fungus

Colletotrichum coccodes is a plant pathogen, which causes anthracnose on tomato and black dot disease of potato. Fungi survive on crop debris and disease emergence is favored by warm temperatures and wet weather


Like most true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Americas. Through human actions, they have since been introduced to many other areas of the world. [1] [4] Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico, especially in the central and western regions, and in the Caribbean islands (West Indies). In the United States, prickly pears are native to many areas of the arid, semiarid, and drought-prone Western and South Central United States, including the lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains and southern Great Plains, where species such as Opuntia phaeacantha and Opuntia polyacantha become dominant, and to the desert Southwest, where several types are endemic. Prickly pear cactus is also native to sandy coastal beach scrub environments of the East Coast from Florida to southern Connecticut ( Opuntia humifusa ).

Americas Landmass comprising North America, Central America and South America

The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

Caribbean region to the center-east of America composed of many islands and of coastal regions of continental countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean is a region of The Americas that consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands and the surrounding coasts. The region is southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

Opuntia species are the most cold-tolerant of the lowland cacti, extending into western and southern Canada; one subspecies, O. fragilis var. fragilis, has been found growing along the Beatton River in central British Columbia, southwest of Cecil Lake at 56° 17’ N latitude and 120° 39’ W longitude. [5]

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with 70% of citizens residing within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

Subspecies taxonomic rank subordinate to species

In biological classification, the term subspecies refers to one of two or more populations of a species living in different subdivisions of the species' range and varying from one another by morphological characteristics. A single subspecies cannot be recognized independently: a species is either recognized as having no subspecies at all or at least two, including any that are extinct. The term is abbreviated subsp. in botany and bacteriology, ssp. in zoology. The plural is the same as the singular: subspecies.

<i>Opuntia fragilis</i> species of plant

Opuntia fragilis, known by the common names brittle pricklypear and little prickly pear, is a prickly pear cactus native to much of western North America as well as some eastern states such as Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. It occurs in several Canadian provinces. It is known from farther north than any other cactus, occurring at as far as 56°N latitude in British Columbia. There is an isolated and possibly genetically unique population in Eastern Ontario known as the "Kaladar population".

Prickly pears also produce a fruit, commonly eaten in Mexico and in the Mediterranean region, known as tuna; it also is used to make aguas frescas . [1] The fruit can be red, wine-red, green, or yellow-orange. In the Galápagos Islands, six different species are found: O. echios, O. galapageia, O. helleri, O. insularis, O. saxicola, and O. megasperma. These species are divided into 14 different varieties; most of these are confined to one or a few islands, so they have been described as "an excellent example of adaptive radiation". [6] On the whole, islands with tall, trunked varieties have giant tortoises, and islands lacking tortoises have low or prostrate forms of Opuntia. Prickly pears are a prime source of food for the common giant tortoises in the Galápagos Islands, so they are important in the food web.

Charles Darwin was the first to note that these cacti have thigmotactic anthers; when the anthers are touched, they curl over, depositing their pollen. This movement can be seen by gently poking the anthers of an open Opuntia flower. The same trait has evolved convergently in other species (e.g. Lophophora ).

The first introduction of prickly pears into Australia is ascribed to Governor Philip and the earliest colonists in 1788. Brought from Brazil to Sydney, prickly pear grew in Sydney, New South Wales, where they were rediscovered in a farmer's garden in 1839. They appear to have spread from New South Wales and caused great ecological damage in the eastern states. They are also found in the Mediterranean region of Northern Africa, especially in Tunisia, where they grow all over the countryside, and in parts of Southern Europe, especially Spain, where they grow in the east, south-east, and south of the country, and also in Malta, where they grow all over the islands. They can be found in enormous numbers in parts of South Africa, where they were introduced from South America. Prickly pears are considered an invasive species in Australia, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Hawaii, among other locations. [1]

Prickly pears (mostly Opuntia stricta ) were originally imported into Europe during the 1500s [1] and Australia in the 18th century for gardens, and were later used as a natural agricultural fencing [7] and in an attempt to establish a cochineal dye industry. They quickly became a widespread invasive weed, eventually converting 101,000 sq mi (260,000 km2) of farming land into an impenetrable green jungle of prickly pear, in places 20 ft (6.1 m) high. Scores of farmers were driven off their land by what they called the "green hell"; their abandoned homes were crushed under the cactus growth, which advanced at a rate of 1,000,000 acres (4,046.9 km2; 1,562.5 sq mi) per year. [7] In 1919, the Australian federal government established the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board to coordinate efforts with state governments to eradicate the weed. Early attempts at mechanical removal and poisonous chemicals failed, so in a last resort, biological control was attempted. [7] The moth Cactoblastis cactorum , from South America, whose larvae eat prickly pear, was introduced in 1925 and rapidly reduced the cactus population. The son of the noted entomologist Frederick Parkhurst Dodd, Alan Dodd, was a leading official in combating the prickly pear menace. A memorial hall in Chinchilla, Queensland, commemorates the moth. [7]

Natural distribution occurs via consumption and seed dispersal by many animals, including antelopes, nonhuman primates, elephants, birds, and humans. [1]


When Carl Linnaeus published Species Plantarum in 1753 – the starting point for modern botanical nomenclature – he placed all the species of cactus known to him in one genus, Cactus. In 1754, the Scottish botanist Philip Miller divided them into several genera, including Opuntia. He distinguished the genus largely on the form of its flowers and fruits. [8]

Considerable variation of taxonomy occurs within Opuntia species, resulting in names being created for variants or subtypes within a species, and use of DNA sequencing to define and isolate various species. [1]

Selected species

Opuntia hybridizes readily between species. [3] This can make classification difficult, yielding a reticulate phylogeny where different species come together in hybridization. [4] Also, not all species listed here may actually belong in this genus, meaning that Opuntia is not a monophyletic group.

Opuntia also has a tendency for polyploidy. The ancestral diploid state was 2n=22, but many species are hexaploid (6n = 66) or octaploid (8n = 88). [4]

Opuntia basilaris Opuntia basilaris 8.jpg
Opuntia basilaris
Opuntia cochenillifera Starr 031108-0182 Opuntia cochenillifera.jpg
Opuntia cochenillifera
Opuntia diploursina near Lake Mead Opuntia diploursina Lake Mead.jpg
Opuntia diploursina near Lake Mead
Opuntia fragilis (little prickly pear) Opuntia fragilis.jpg
Opuntia fragilis (little prickly pear)
Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear cactus) in bloom atop Sugarloaf Hill in the Hudson Highlands of New York State Prickly pear at Sugarloaf Hill, NY.jpg
Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear cactus) in bloom atop Sugarloaf Hill in the Hudson Highlands of New York State
Opuntia macrocentra Opuntia macrocentra - Black-spined-Prickly-Pear (4486665887).jpg
Opuntia macrocentra
Opuntia oricola Opuntia oricola 1.jpg
Opuntia oricola
Opuntia ovata Opuntia ovata 2.jpg
Opuntia ovata
Opuntia pinkavae, named in honor of Donald John Pinkava Opuntia pinkavae ies.jpg
Opuntia pinkavae , named in honor of Donald John Pinkava
Opuntia polyacantha (Panhandle prickly pear) Opuntia polyacantha ies.jpg
Opuntia polyacantha (Panhandle prickly pear)
Opuntia robusta flowers Opuntia robusta1GEHU.jpg
Opuntia robusta flowers
Opuntia stenopetala Opuntia riviereana 1.jpg
Opuntia stenopetala

Formerly in Opuntia

An Opuntia in front of a jumping cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) Jumping Cholla-JRO.jpg
An Opuntia in front of a jumping cholla ( Cylindropuntia fulgida )


Chollas, now recognized to belong to the distinct genus Cylindropuntia, are distinguished by having cylindrical, rather than flattened, stem segments with large barbed spines. The stem joints of several species, notably the jumping cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida), are very brittle on young stems, readily breaking off when the barbed spines stick to clothing or animal fur as a method of vegetative reproduction. The barbed spines can remain embedded in the skin, causing discomfort and sometimes injury.


As food

Prickly pear, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 172 kJ (41 kcal)
9.6 g
Dietary fiber 3.6 g
0.5 g
0.7 g
Vitamins Quantity%DV
Vitamin A equiv.
25 μg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.1 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.5 mg
Vitamin B6
0.1 mg
Folate (B9)
6 μg
Vitamin C
14.0 mg
Vitamin E
0 mg
Minerals Quantity%DV
56 mg
0.3 mg
85 mg
24 mg
220 mg
0.1 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water88 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database


Raw opuntia leaves are 88% water, 10% carbohydrates, and less than 1% both of protein and fat (table). In a 100-g reference amount, raw leaves provide 41 Calories, 17% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C, and 24% DV for magnesium, with no other micronutrients in significant content (table).

Regional food uses

Prickly pear fruit at a market in Zacatecas, Mexico Prickly pears.jpg
Prickly pear fruit at a market in Zacatecas, Mexico
Close up of fruit Cactus fruit.jpg
Close up of fruit

The fruit of prickly pears, commonly called cactus fruit, cactus fig, Indian [9] fig, nopales [10] or tuna in Spanish, [11] is edible, although it must be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption. If the outer layer is not properly removed, glochids can be ingested, causing discomfort of the throat, lips, and tongue, as the small spines are easily lodged in the skin. Native Americans like the Tequesta would roll the fruit around in a suitable medium (e.g. grit) to "sand" off the glochids. Alternatively, rotating the fruit in the flame of a campfire or torch has been used to remove the glochids. Today, parthenocarpic (seedless) cultivars are also available.

A box of prickly pear candy: These are often sold in Southwest U.S. gift shops. Cheri's prickly pear candy.jpg
A box of prickly pear candy: These are often sold in Southwest U.S. gift shops.

In Mexico, prickly pears are often used to make appetizers, soups, salads, entrees, vegetable dishes, breads, desserts, beverages, candy, jelly, and drinks. [10] [12] [13] The young stem segments, usually called nopales , are also edible in most species of Opuntia. [10] They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), or tacos de nopales. Nopales are also an important ingredient in New Mexican cuisine. [10]

Opuntia ficus-indica has been introduced to Europe, and flourishes in areas with a suitable climate, such as the south of France and southern Italy: In Sicily, they are referred to as fichi d'India (Italian literal translation of Indian fig) or ficurinia (Sicilian dialect literal translation of Indian fig). In Sardinia, they are called figumorisca - Moorish figs). They can be found also in the Struma River in Bulgaria, in southern Portugal and Madeira (where they are called tabaibo, figo tuno, or "Indian figs"), in Andalusia, Spain (where they are known as higos chumbos). In Greece, it grows in such places as the Peloponnese region, Ionian Islands, or Crete, and its figs are known as frangosyka (Frankish, i.e. Western European, figs) or pavlosyka (Paul's figs), depending on the region. In Albania, they are called fiq deti translated as 'sea figs', and are present in the south-west shore. The figs are also grown in Cyprus, where they are known as papoutsosyka or babutsa (cactus figs).

The prickly pear also grows widely on the islands of Malta, where it is enjoyed by the Maltese as a typical summer fruit (known as bajtar tax-xewk, literally 'spiny figs'), as well as being used to make the popular liqueur known as bajtra . [14] The prickly pear is so commonly found in the Maltese islands, it is often used as a dividing wall between many of Malta's characteristic terraced fields in place of the usual rubble walls.

The prickly pear was introduced to Eritrea during the period of Italian colonisation between 1890 and 1940. It is locally known there as beles and is abundant during the late summer and early autumn (late July through September). The beles from the holy monastery of Debre Bizen is said to be particularly sweet and juicy. In Libya, it is a popular summer fruit and called by the locals Hindi, which literally means Indian.

In Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other parts of the Middle East, prickly pears of the yellow and orange varieties are grown by the side of farms, beside railway tracks and other otherwise noncultivable land. It is sold in summer by street vendors, and is considered a refreshing fruit for that season.

Tungi is the local St. Helenian name for cactus pears. The plants (Indian fig opuntia) were originally brought to the island by the colonial ivory traders from East Africa in the 1850s. Tungi cactus now grows wild in the dry coastal regions of the island. Three principal cultivars of tungi grow on the island: the 'English' with yellow fruit; the 'Madeira' with large red fruit; and the small, firm 'spiny red'.Tungi also gives its name to a local Spirit distilled at The St Helena distillery at Alarm Forest, the most remote distillery in the world, made entirely from the opuntia cactus.

Phytochemicals and folk medicine

Close-up image of prickly pear fruit: Apart from the large spines, note the glochids (the fine prickles, or bristles) that readily dislodge and may cause skin and eye irritation. PricklyPearClose.jpg
Close-up image of prickly pear fruit: Apart from the large spines, note the glochids (the fine prickles, or bristles) that readily dislodge and may cause skin and eye irritation.

Opuntia contains a range of phytochemicals in variable quantities, such as polyphenols, dietary minerals and betalains. [15] [16] Identified compounds under basic research include gallic acid, vanillic acid and catechins, as examples. [15] The Sicilian prickly pear contains betalain, betanin, and indicaxanthin, with highest levels in their fruits. [16]

In Mexican folk medicine, its pulp and juice are considered treatments for wounds and inflammation of the digestive and urinary tracts, [17] although there is no high-quality evidence for any clinical benefit of using opuntia for these purposes.

Other uses

In dye production

Traditional "Zapotec nest" farming of the cochineal scale insect on O. ficus-indica, Oaxaca Cochinel Zapotec nests.jpg
Traditional "Zapotec nest" farming of the cochineal scale insect on O. ficus-indica, Oaxaca

Dactylopius coccus is a scale insect from which cochineal dye is derived. D. coccus itself is native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico. This insect, a primarily sessile parasite, lives on cacti from the genus Opuntia, feeding on moisture and nutrients in the cactus sap. The insect produces carminic acid, which deters predation by other insects. The carminic acid can be extracted from the insect's body and eggs to make the red dye.

Cochineal is used primarily as a red food colouring and for cosmetics. [10] The cochineal dye was used by the Aztec and Maya peoples of Central and North America. Produced almost exclusively in Oaxaca, Mexico, by indigenous producers, cochineal became Mexico's second-most valued export after silver. [18] The dyestuff was consumed throughout Europe, and was so highly valued, its price was regularly quoted on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchanges.

Now, the highest production of cochineal is by Peru, the Canary Islands, and Chile. Current health concerns over artificial food additives have renewed the popularity of cochineal dyes, and the increased demand is making cultivation of the insect an attractive opportunity in other regions, such as in Mexico, where cochineal production had declined again owing to the numerous natural enemies of the scale insect. [19]

Apart from cochineal, the red dye betanin can be extracted from some Opuntia plants themselves. [10]

For earthen walls

Fluid ("cactus juice") extracted from Opuntia pads and stems, especially O. ficus-indica, is one of the most commonly used additives in earthen plaster.

For water treatment

The flesh ("mucilage") of the cactus has been found to purify water. [20] A project at the University of South Florida is investigating its potential for low-cost, large-scale water purification. [21]

For animal fodder

Cactus is also an excellent fodder crop for animals and are very useful to grow under arid and dryland regions. In some parts of India they are being promoted as fodder crops. [22]

In culture

The coat of arms of Mexico Coat of arms of Mexico.svg
The coat of arms of Mexico

The coat of arms of Mexico depicts a Mexican golden eagle, perched upon an Opuntia cactus, holding a rattlesnake. According to the official history of Mexico, the coat of arms is inspired by an Aztec legend regarding the founding of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, then a nomadic tribe, were wandering throughout Mexico in search of a divine sign to indicate the precise spot upon which they were to build their capital. Their god Huitzilopochtli had commanded them to find an eagle devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus that grew on a rock submerged in a lake. After 200 years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy Lake Texcoco. There they founded their new capital, Tenochtitlan. The cactus (O. ficus-indica; Nahuatl: tenochtli), full of fruits, is the symbol for the island of Tenochtitlan.

The coat of arms of Malta from 1975 to 1988 Coat of Arms of Malta 1975-1988.jpg
The coat of arms of Malta from 1975 to 1988

The 1975–1988 version of the coat of arms of Malta also featured a prickly pear, along with a traditional dgħajsa, a shovel and pitchfork, and the rising sun. [23]

In Arabic, the cactus is called صبار ṣubbār; the related term sabr also translates to "patience" or "tenacity". [24] The cactus fig is called tsabar (Hebrew : צבר) in Hebrew. This cactus is also the origin of the term sabra used to describe a Jew born in Israel. The allusion is to a thorny, spiky skin on the outside, but a soft, sweet interior, suggesting, though the Israeli sabras are rough on the outside, they are sweet and sensitive once one gets to know them. [25] [26]

The prickly pear cactus has been used for centuries both as a food source and a natural fence that keeps in livestock and marks the boundaries of family lands. [10] They are resilient and often grow back following removal. [10]

The cactus lends its name to a song by British jazz/classical group Portico Quartet.[ citation needed ] The song "My Rival", on the album Gaucho by the American jazz-pop group Steely Dan begins with the words, "The wind was driving in my face/The smell of prickly pear." [27]

In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28-kilometre (17 mi) fence surrounding the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. [28] This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain [29] and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia.

See also

Related Research Articles

Nopal Fruit of the Opuntia cactus

Nopal (from the Nahuatl word nohpalli[noʔˈpalːi] for the pads of the plant) is a common name in Spanish for Opuntia cacti, as well as for its pads.

Sabra is, among others, an Arabic word and an Anglicised Israeli term. It may refer to:

<i>Opuntia ficus-indica</i> species of plant

Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant grown in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. Likely having originated in Mexico, O. ficus-indica is the most widespread and most commercially important cactus. Common English names for the plant and its fruit are Indian fig opuntia, Barbary fig, cactus pear, and spineless cactus, among many. In Mexican Spanish, the plant is called nopal, while the fruit is called tuna, names that may be used in American English as culinary terms.

Indian fig is a common name for several plants and may refer to:

<i>Opuntia engelmannii</i> species of plant

Opuntia engelmannii is a prickly pear common across the south-central and Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It goes by a variety of common names, including cow's tongue cactus, cow tongue prickly pear, desert prickly pear, discus prickly pear, Engelmann's prickly pear, and Texas prickly pear in the US, and nopal, abrojo, joconostle, and vela de coyote in Mexico.

Tungi Spirit is the name given to a distilled product made in Saint Helena from the fruit of the prickly or cactus pear.

<i>Opuntia phaeacantha</i> species of plant

Opuntia phaeacantha is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common names tulip prickly pear and desert prickly pear found across the southwestern United States, lower Great Plains, and northern Mexico. The plant forms dense but localized thickets. Several varieties of this particular species occur, and it also hybridizes easily with other prickly pears, making identification sometimes tricky.

<i>Opuntia echios</i> species of plant

Opuntia echios is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) and is commonly known as the Galápagos prickly pear, but there are five other species of prickly pears that also are endemic to the archipelago.

<i>Opuntia monacantha</i> species of plant

Opuntia monacantha, commonly known as drooping prickly pear, cochineal prickly pear, or Barbary fig, is a species of plant in the family Cactaceae. It is native to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and is naturalised in Australia and South Africa. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and sandy shores.

Cochineal prickly pear is a common name which may refer to several species of cactus in the genus Opuntia including:

<i>Opuntia basilaris</i> species of cactus

Opuntia basilaris, the beavertail cactus or beavertail pricklypear, is a cactus species found in the southwest United States. It occurs mostly in the Mojave, Anza-Borrego, and Colorado Deserts, as well as in the Colorado Plateau and northwest Mexico. It is also found throughout the Grand Canyon and Colorado River region as well as into southern Utah and Nevada, and in the western Arizona regions along the Lower Colorado River Valley.

<i>Opuntia humifusa</i> species of plant

Opuntia humifusa, commonly known as the devil's-tongue, Eastern prickly pear or Indian fig, is a cactus of the opuntia genus native to parts of eastern North America.

Cochineal species of insect

The cochineal is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the natural dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America through North America, this insect lives on cacti in the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients. The insects are found on the pads of prickly pear cacti, collected by brushing them off the plants, and dried.

Prickly pear may refer to:


Nopalitos is a dish made with diced nopales, the naturally flat stems, called pads, of prickly pear (Opuntia). They are sold fresh, bottled, or canned and less often dried. They have a light, slightly tart flavor, and a crisp, mucilaginous texture. Nopalitos are often eaten with eggs as a breakfast and in salads and soups as lunch and dinner meals.

<i>Opuntia aciculata</i> species of plant

Opuntia aciculata, also called Chenille pricklypear, old man's whiskers, and cowboy’s red whiskers, is a perennial dicot and an attractive ornamental cactus native to Texas. It belongs to the genus Opuntia prickly pear cacti. It is also widespread in Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas.

<i>Opuntia macrocentra</i> species of plant

Opuntia macrocentra, the long-spined purplish prickly pear or purple pricklypear, is a cactus found in the lower Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. A member of the prickly pear genus, this species of Opuntia is most notable as one of a few cacti that produce a purple pigmentation in the stem. Other common names for this plant include black-spined pricklypear, long-spine prickly pear, purple pricklypear, and redeye prickly pear.

<i>Dactylopius</i> genus of insects

Dactylopius is a genus of insect in the superfamily Coccoidea, the scale insects. It is the only genus in the family Dactylopiidae. These insects are known commonly as cochineals, a name that also specifically refers to the best-known species, the cochineal. The cochineal is an insect of economic and historical importance as a main source of the red dye carmine. It has reportedly been used for this purpose in the Americas since the 10th century. Genus Dactylopius is also important because several species have been used as agents of biological pest control, and because several are known as invasive species.

<i>Opuntia diploursina</i> species of plant

Opuntia diploursina is a species in the Cactaceae family, that grows near and in Lake Mead National Recreation Area and northward across Nevada's Mormon Mesa, into Utah. This species is a close relative and probable ancestor of Opuntia erinacea, but "...differs in minor spines more closely appressed to pad surface, spines smaller in diameter and more flexible, inter-areolar distance less, upright growth habit, larger fruit with longer, more flexible spines, larger seeds, and diploid chromosome number (2n=22)".

Opuntia trichophora is a species of cactus in the genus Opuntia, more commonly known as prickly pears or nopal. O. trichophora is distributed throughout parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, and may have disjoint populations in Wyoming, southern Montana, and southern Idaho. Opuntia trichophora is a diploid (2n=22) but has sometimes been treated as a variety of Opuntia polyacantha a tetraploid (2n=44). O. trichophora tends to have longer spines than O. polycantha or O. macrorhiza.


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