Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Opuntia, Prickly Pear Cactus, Edible Cactus

Opuntia

A large genus of fast growing Cactus, many of great beauty in the landscape, some highly valued for food production and some which while tame in the Americas may turn invasive if planted in Australia exceptionally ideal conditions.
In northern climates, Opuntia add an exotic touch to the landscape, in desert climates they are highly valuable as landscape plants due to their vigorous growth and beauty combined with extreme heat and drought tolerance. They are also valuable as fire retardant groundcover since the fleshy pads don't easily burn. They can also used as a multi-purpose hedge providing both wind protection, food and a barrier to keep animals and unwanted people out.
All Opuntia are edible, a good thing since due to easy hybridization making identification sometimes difficult. The fruits can be fermented to make wine.
Before eating, it is important to brush the stinging hairs off the fruits. They are tasty eaten raw but the seeds can be a nuisance. The seeds are easily removed by cutting the fruits in half and scooping them out.
Despite rapid growth, Opuntia make poor livestock feed even if spineless varieties are used, due to their low nutritional content of the pads ( the fruits however are high in vitamins ).
Most Opuntia prefer full sun and moderately fertile, sandy, very well drained soils.
They also do not like their roots confined, and will lack vigor if grown in planters or pots which constrict their roots. They do not like winter wet so care should be taken when planting however that may be no more difficult than planting on a mound or berm if drainage is an issue. Growth can be increased by frequent fertilizing and occasional but regular deep watering during spring and summer - during winter cut back sharply or completely on both. Opuntia Cactus are tolerant of heat, drought, salt, excessive wind and are not generally eaten by deer.
Propagation can be from rooted stem segments or seed which should be soaked in water beforehand. Propagated from seed, it is recommended to nick the seed with a file, than soak in water to soften the hard seed coat thus making germination easier. It typically takes 3 to 5 years for a seedling Opuntia to bear fruit.
As for vegetative reproduction, it is easily done by breaking off a pad and sticking it ( or laying it flat ) in light, sandy, well drained soil.
In cold climates, the Opuntia cactus's shrivel up during winter. They may look dead but are alive and well waiting for spring. They deliberately eliminate water from their cells to prevent freeze damage.

* photo of unknown internet source





* historic archive photo


Opuntia acanthocarpa ( Buckhorn Cholla )
Also called Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa. A tree-like cactus, reaching up to 15 x 7 ( rarely over 5 ) feet with a trunk diameter of 4 inches. It is native from southern California to southwest Utah; south to northwest Mexico.
The narrow joints can be up to 12 x 2 inches in size.
The yellow, pink or red flowers, up to 2.2 inches wide, appear during mid to late spring.
They are followed by yellow, spineless to sparsely-spined fruit that can persist for up to a year or more.
The stems are green to purplish.
The gray to reddish spines are up to 0.6 inches long.
Hardy zones 8 to 11 ( possibly for 5b for southwest Utah clones ) in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil.

Opuntia aurea
Reaches up to 6 x 3 feet.
Hardy zones 5a+

'Golden Carpet'
Blue-gray spineless pads and bright yellow flowers.

Opuntia basilaris ( Beaver Tail Cactus )
A fast growing, bushy Cactus, reaching up to 3.3 x 6 feet, that is native from central California to southeast Utah; south to northwest Mexico.
The flat, oval cactus pads, up to 14 x 7 inches, have few spines. The pads are purplish to blue-gray.
The showy, intense pinkish-red flowers, up to 3 inches across, are borne at the ends of the pads from early to mid summer. Each flower only lasts a day or 2, to be replaced by more.
They are followed by reddish-pink, oblong fruits up to 3 x 2 inches in size.
Hardy zones 6 to 9 in full sun on light, well drained soil. Drought tolerant.
Tolerant of dry gravelly soil and pure sand.

* photos of unknown internet source




'Sara's Carpet'
Reaches up to 1.5 feet in height, with pinkish-gray pads and deep rose-pink flowers.
Hardy zones 5a+

Opuntia bigelovii ( Teddy Bear Cholla )
Also called Cylindropuntia bigelovii. A shrubby Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 9 x 8 feet, that is native from California to southern Nevada to Arizona, south into northern Mexico.
The cylindrical stem segments, up to 10 x 2 inches in size, are very spiny.
The stem segments are made colorful by the golden yellow sheaths and the pinkish-orange to reddish-brown spines up to 1.5 inches long.
The yellow-green flowers, up to 1.5 inches across, are borne in clusters.
They are followed by warty, yellow, spineless fruits.
Hardy zones 6 to 11 in full sun on sandy, well drained soil. It does not grow in the humid eastern U.S. Detached joints often root easily.

* photo of unknown internet source


Optunia brasiliense
Similar to Optunia vulgaris, but growing larger, reaching a maximum size of 33 feet.

Opuntia columbiana
A sprawling groundcover cactus, bearing yellow flowers.
Hardy zones 5a+ ( tolerating -20 F ).

'Hells Canyon'
An extremely vigorous, spreading, groundcover Cactus, reaching up to 6 feet or more across.
The profuse, showy flowers are yellow.
Hardy north to zone 4 ( tolerating -30 F or colder )

Opuntia compressa
Also called Optunia humifusa. Tolerant of heat and humidity in the southeast as well as cold in the Midwest.

Opuntia cycloides
Reaches up to 10 feet.
Hardy zones 7a+

Optunia dillenii

* photos taken on Aug 15 2014 @ Rawlings Conservatory, Baltimore, MD

* historic archive photos


Opuntia echinocarpa ( Golden Cholla )
Also called Cylindropuntia echinocarpa. A small, tree-like cactus, reaching up to 10 x 3 ( rarely over 5 ) feet, that is native from central California to central Nevada to southwest Utah; south into northwestern Mexico.
The stem segments, up to 5 x 1 inches in size, are armed with an abundancce of white spines.
The flowers are yellowish-green.
Hardy zones 9a to 10 in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil.

* photo of unknown internet source


Optunia ellisiana ( Tiger Tongue Cactus )
Also called Opuntia lindheimeri var. ellisiana and Opuntia cacanapa var Ellisiana. A vigorous, spreading Cactus, that is native from Arizona to Texas; south into Mexico. Fast growing, it reaches up to 3 x 6 feet in 5 years, eventually up to 5 x 6.6 ( rarely over 3 x 5 ) feet.
The gray-green pads are up to 10 x 8 ( rarely over 6 ) inches. The pads are thornless unlike that of closely related Opuntia cacanapa. Even through the pads are thornless, they still have fine hairs that can irritate the skin when handled.
The bright yellow flowers, up to 4 inches across, appear during late spring.
They are followed by oblong red fruits.
Hardy zones 6 to 9

* photo taken on Nov 3 2013 in Clarksville, MD

* photo of unknown internet source


Opuntia engelmannii ( Engelmann's Prickly Pear )
Moderate growing, reaching up to 6 x 10 or rarely 10 x 15 feet, that is native from southeast California to southeast Utah to south-central Oklahoma; south into northern Mexico ).
The oval to rounded, bluish-gray pads are up to 6 inches long.
The yellowish-orange flowers, up to 4 inches wide, appear during mid-spring.
The are followed by edible, reddish-purple, oblong fruits, up to 3 x 1 inches in size, during late summer.
Hardy zones 7 to 10 and extremely drought tolerant, surviving with yearly precip. as low as 5 inches.

* photo taken on Sep 23 2013 in Burtonsville, MD

* historical archive photo


'Las Cruces'
Reaches up to 7 x 10 feet, with bluer pads than regular Opuntia engelmannii.
It is also hardier, north to zone 7a ( possibly even tolerating as cold as -15 F )

Opuntia erinacea ursina( Grizzly Bear Cactus )
A fast growing, spreading, groundcover Cactus, reaching up to 20 inches x 6.5 feet.
The flat, oval cactus pads, up to 7 x 3.5 inches, are armed with profuse bristly spines.
The showy, yellow flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne at the ends of the pads from early to mid summer. Each flower only lasts a day or 2, to be replaced by more.
They are followed by reddish-pink fruit.
Hardy zones 5 to 9 in full sun on light, well drained soil. Drought tolerant.
Tolerant of dry gravelly soil and pure sand.

Opuntia ficus-indica ( Tuna Prickly Pear )
A fast growing Cactus, often exceeding 13 feet and maturing in as little as 7 years, that is native to savanna and grassland in much of Mexico yet cultivated around the world. Some records include: largest on record - 23 x 17 feet with a trunk diameter of 3 feet. Very long lived, this Cactus is known to live as long as 200 years. In some parts of the world, this Cactus may be too vigorous. When it was introduced to Australia during the 18th century, it became a noxious weed, invading and in many cases completely taking over about 60 million acres. It was eventually brought under control by the introduction of natural preditor, the Argentine Moth border, which eats into and destroys many of the pads. This turned into a prime example of biological control of an invasive pest. The Prickly Pear is still a common plant in Australia but in most cases no longer an invasive threat.
The large, flattened, oblong to rounded stem segments, up to 24 x 8 inches, are blue-green to green. The stem segments or joints typically have areoles with 1 to 2 spines. The pads are edible ( best harvested under 3 inches across ) and often eaten in many places around the world. It is recommended to collect the pads in morning when they are covered in dew and brush off the glochids ( bristles ). The pads can then be eaten fresh or boiled.
One Cactus recipe is to cook the pads for 20 minutes on the coals of an open fire ( turning them over after 10 minutes ). Do not remove the spines before since they will burn off anyway. At that point you can cut the pads into strips and fry them with onions, garlic or batter.
The yellow flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne late spring into early summer.
They are followed by edible, purple, oval fruits, up to 3.5 inches in length, that are covered with small spines. The fruits are eaten after the glochids ( small spines ) are brushed off. Skinning the fruits are also an option ( dipping the fruits in boiling water makes skinning them easier. There are cultivars with spineless fruits but those fruits are usually smaller, up to 2 inches, and may not be quite as delicious. The fruits are good eaten raw but contain many hard seeds. The seeds are best by cutting the fruits in half and scooping the seeds out. The fruits can be baked and dried or also used for juice, wine and preserves.
A single plant may produce as many as 200 fruits in a year. Up to 30 tons of fruit may be produces on an acre in a year.
Horticulaturalist Luther Burbank, having spent 15 years growing millions of Optunia seedlings looking for new cultivars for agricultural use, reported that a single acre of his spineless hybrids could produce as much as 300 tons of vegetable matter in just 3 years as well as annual production of up to 30 tons of fruit per year.
The Tuna Prickly Pear is sometimes used as a windbreak or firebreak ( doesn't burn easily ) in dry climates.
Hardy zones 9 to 11 tolerating as low as 15 F

* photo of unknown internet source

* photos taken on Aug 15 2014 @ Rawlings Conservatory, Baltimore, MD

* historical archive photo


'Burbank's Spineless'
Reaches up to 5 x 5 feet in 4 years, eventually more, bearing pads that are spineless.
The glowing yellow flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne during summer.

Optunia fragilis ( Brittle Prickly Pear )
A low clump forming cactus, reaching up to 6 inches x 6 feet, that is native to western and central North America ( from Vancouver, British Columbia to Dawson Creek, B.C. to Edmonton, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba to Kenora, Ontario, south to northern California to central Arizona to northern Texas to Iowa to central Michigan ). It is also found locally on a rock barren at Kaladar ( northeast of Tweed ) in southeastern Ontario. It is endangered in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario; extinct in California. It is most often found on dry sandy prairie in the wild.
The short stem segments are armed with clusters of up to 9 spines.
The flowers, up to 2 inches across, are greenish-yellow.
They are followed by oval fruits that are green ripening to red.
Hardy zones 3 to 9 ( tolerating as low as -40 F )

Optunia fulgida ( Jumping Cholla )
Also called Cylindropuntia fulgida. A fast growing Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 21 x 15 feet with a trunk diameter of 1 feet, that is native to central and southern Arizona as well as northwestern Mexico. It sometimes forms pure stand forests in the wild.
The narrow segments are up to 8 x 2 inches in size. The stem segments are usually pale gray-green.
The flowers, up to 1.6 inches wide, are deep pink. They appear during mid to late spring.
Hardy zones 8b to 11 in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil. Detached joints often root easily.

* photos taken by W.H. Shaffer @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* historic archive photo

* photo of unknown internet source


Opuntia gilvescens ( Oklahoma Pancake Cactus )
Reaches up to 3 x 3 feet, with rounded light blue pads that bear golden spines.
The yellow flowers are followed by fleshy red fruit.
Hardy zones 5a+ ( possibly 4 )

Opuntia humifusa ( Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus )
A fast growing, spreading, groundcover Cactus, reaching up to 1 x 5 feet, that is native to eastern North America ( from southwest Minnesota to southern Wisconsin to central Michigan to Point Pelee and Pelee Island in Ontario to Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire; south to central Texas to southern Florida ). It is critically endangered in the wild in Canada being restricted to the Leamington, Ontario area however it is possible to have also occurred at some point in the past on other idea habitat around Grand Bend and Long Point also in Ontario. It is also endangered in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In the Great Lakes region, it is usually found on sand dunes. Some records include: x 3 feet in 3 years.
The flat, oval cactus pads, up to 8 x 5 inches in size, have relatively few thorns. The pads are deep green. The pads are edible and can be eaten like string beans after flaming then roasting over a fire, then peeling and slicing.
The showy, yellow ( often centered red ) flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne at the ends of the pads from early to mid summer. Each flower only lasts a day or 2, to be replaced by more.
They are followed by edible, reddish-pink fruits that can be used for making jelly.
Hardy zones 3 to 8 in full sun on light, well drained soil.
Tolerant of drought, dry gravelly soil and pure sand. Tolerant of heat and humidity in the southeast as well as cold in the Midwest.

* photo of unknown internet source

* photos taken on Aug 25 2011 @ Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, PA

* photos taken on Oct 17 2013 in Olney, MD

* photo taken on Apr 24 2016 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

* photos taken on Sep 18 2016 @ Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, MD


'Australis'
A fast growing, arboreal form, reaching up to 3 x 3 feet in 4 years, with an eventual maximum size of 5 x 6 feet.

* photo taken on April 11 @ U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.


'Lemon Form'
The flowers are bright lemon yellow.

'Orange Form'
The flowers are yellow with orange centers.

Opuntia imbricata ( Chain Link Cactus )
Also called Cylindropuntia imbricata. A fast growing, tree-like Cactus, reaching up to 15 x 10 ( rarely over 12 ) feet, with a trunk diameter of up to 10 inches. It is native from south-central Arizona to central Colorado to southwest Kansas; south into Mexico.
The narrow cylindrical joints, up to 8 x 1 inches, are warty and spiny. The gray to reddish spines are up to 0.6 inches long.
The showy, margenta-pink flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne at the ends of the pads from early to mid summer. Each flower only lasts a day or 2, to be replaced by more.
They are followed by reddish-pink fruit.
Hardy zones 5 to 9 in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil. Drought tolerant.
Tolerant of dry gravelly soil and pure sand.

* photo of unknown internet source

* historical archive photo


Opuntia leucotricha
A treelike Cactus, reaching up to 15 feet, that is native to Mexico.
The pads are up to 10 inches in length, and the flowers, up to 3 inches across, are yellow.

Opuntia linderheimeri ( Texas Prickly Pear )
Also called Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri ( a subspecies including the Texas and Oklahoma parts of O. engelmannii's range ). An extremely invasive Cactus, reaching up to 12 x 15 ( rarely over 7 x 10 ) feet. It is usually found on grassland and sandy desert in the wild.
The blue-green, oval to rounded segments are up to 12 x 7 inches in size. The spines are pale yellow.
The yellowish-orange flowers, up to 3 inches across, appear during mid-spring.
They are followed by edible, purplish-red, oblong fruits, up to 3 x 1 inches in size.
Hardy zones 8 to 10 in full sun on sandy or gravelly well drained soil.

* photos taken @ U.S. Botanical Garden, Wash., DC on Aug 25 2014

* historical archive photo

* historic archive photo


Opuntia littoralis
Reaches up to 5 x 7 feet, with blue-gray pads that are armed with spines, up to 2.5 inches in length.
Hardy zones 9 to 11

Opuntia macrorhiza
A low growing, groundcover Cactus, reaching up to 14 inches x 3 feet, that is native to the midwest and southwest U.S. ( from Idaho to Wisconsin; south to Arizona to Louisiana.
Large pads, up to 10 inches in length, are blue-green. They are difficult to handle due to their very abundant glochids and spines.
The papery flowers are yellow with a scarlet-red throat ( similar O. humifusa does not have the red throat ). The fleshy, spineless fruits are red-purple.
Hardy zones 4 to 8 in full sun to partial shade on very well drained soil. Very easy to grow and very easy to propagate from cuttings.

'Black Mesa Pink'
Purplish-pink flowers.

'From Kansas'

* photo taken on Sep 23 2013 in Burtonsville, MD


Opuntia microdasys ( Bunny Ears )
A fast growing, spreading Cactus, reaching up to 3.3 x 10 ( rarely over 2 x 8 ) feet, that is native from south-central Arizona into Mexico. The pads, up to 8 x 6 inches in size, are spineless but have many clusters of creamy-yellow stinging hairs.
The pale yellow flowers, up to 2 inches wide, appear during summer.
They are followed by edible, green to red, spineless fruits up to 1.3 inches wide.
Hardy zones 8 to 10 ( some clones possible in zone 7 ) in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil. Stem segments root easily if allowed to callus first.

* photo of unknown internet source


'Alba'

* photos taken on Aug 15 2014 @ Rawlings Conservatory, Baltimore, MD


Opuntia phaeacantha ( Purple Fruited Prickly Pear )
A sprawling Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 5 x 20 ( rarely over 3 x 6 ) feet, that is native from California to central Colorado to Kansas; south to northern Mexico.
The flattened stem segments, up to 16 x 9 ( rarely over 8 ) inches, are armed on the surface and edges with fierce spines, up to 2.5 inches in length.
The bright yellow flowers, up to 3 inches across, are borne during spring or after a period of heavy rainfall.
They are followed by edible, reddish-purple, pear-shaped fruits, up to 3 inches in length.
Hardy zones 4 to 10 tolerating as low as -30 F.

* photo of unknown internet source

* historical archive photo


'Imnaha Blue'
Reaches up to 1 x 4 feet, with nearly spineless, gray-blue pads and yellow flowers.
Hardy zones 4a+

var nigricans

* photo taken on Nov 3 2013 in Clarksville, MD


'Peter Pan'
Dwarf, reaching up to 3 inches x 2 feet.
Hardy north to zone 3a

Opuntia polyacantha ( Plains Prickly Pear Cactus )
A fast growing, spreading, groundcover Cactus, reaching up to 2 x 13 feet, that is native to the Great Plains of North America ( from near Edmonton, Alberta to western Manitoba; south to Arizona to Texas ). It is found on dry prairie and hillsides in the wild.
The flattened, oval to rounded cactus pads, up to 6 ( rarely 11 x 7 ) inches in length, have blue-green spines up to 2 inches in length, borne in clusters of 5 to 10.
The showy, yellow flowers, up to 4 inches across, are borne at the ends of the pads from early to mid summer. Each flower only lasts a day or 2, to be replaced by more.
They are followed by dry, spiny, reddish-pink fruits, up to an inch in length.
Hardy zones 2 to 7 in full sun on light, well drained soil. Drought tolerant.
Tolerant of dry gravelly soil and pure sand. Alberta clones show no damage at -40 F.

* photo of unknown internet source


'Crystal Tide'
Large, creamy-white flowers.

'Claude Arno'
Deep red flowers.

'Wasash Pink'
Flowers are bright pink.

Opuntia robusta
A tree-like Cactus, reaching up to 20 x 12 feet, that is native to central Mexico.
The thick, rounded segments, up to 16 x 20 inches, are blue-green.
The segments are armed with white spines.
The very large flowers, up to 3 inches across, are yellow.
The fruits, up to 3 inches across, are red.
Hardy zones 8b to 11, tolerating as low as 12 F. It will tolerate rain during summer if it has excellent drainage.

* photo of unknown internet source


Opuntia stricta ( Coastal Prickly Pear )

* historic archive photos


Opuntia subarmata
Also called Opuntia engelmannii var. subarmata. Reaches up to 6 x 1 feet, with pads up to 12 inches in length, that bear few spines.
It is native to Arizona.
Hardy zones 7+

Opuntia subulata ( Eves Needle Cactus )
Also called Austrocylindropuntia subulata. A fast growing, shrubby Cactus, reaching up to 13 x 10 feet with trunk diameter up to 3 inches, that is native to dry mountains in southern Peru, Bolivia and northern Argrntina. It has a very attractive habit and makes a great landscape plant in the southwestern U.S.
The stem segments, up to 24 x 2.5 inches in size, are deep green. They are armed with pale yellow spines up to 3 inches long.
The flowers, up to 3 inches across, are deep orangish-pink.
They are followed by fruits, up to 4 inches.
Hardy zones 9 to 11 in full sun on sandy, well drained soil. It is surprisingly heat tolerant considering it's natural range and thrives in the milder parts of the Phoenix, AZ metro area.

Opuntia tomentosa
A small tree, native to Mexico, that can reach a maximum size of 26 x 12 feet with a trunk diameter of 1 foot.
The velvety soft haired, flattened stem segments are up to 12 inches in length.
The flowers, up to 2 inches across, are orange with faint red stripes.
They are followed by oval red fruits.
Hardy zones 8b to 10

Opuntia tunicata ( Prickly Pear )
A dense spreading Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 2 x 5 feet, that is native from New Mexico, western Texas into western Oklahoma; south into Mexico. It is also naturalized in South America.
The whorled joints, up to 10 inches in length, are blue-green with white aeroles and creamy spines with white sheathing.
The flowers, up to 2.5 inches across, are yellow, borne from spring into summer.
They are followed by long persistent, spineless, blue-green fruits.
Hardy zones 7 to 11

Opuntia violacea ( Purple Prickly Pear Cactus )
A shrubby Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 8 x 10 feet, that is native from eastern Arizona to western Texas.
The stem segments or pads are up to 8 x 6 inches in size. The pads are bright blue with violet tints; turning entirely purplish-red during winter.
The bright yellow flowers, up to 3.5 inches across, appear during mid to late spring.
The purplish-red, oblong fruits, up to 1.5 x 1 inches, appear during late summer and often persist into winter.
Hardy zones 9 to 11 in full sun on sandy or gravelly, well drained soil.

'Santa Rita'
Reaches up to 8 x 10 ( rarely over 7 x 5 ) feet with purplish stem segments.
Hardy north to zone 7.

* photo of unknown internet source


Opuntia vulgaris ( Drooping Prickly Pear )
A treelike Cactus, reaching a maximum size of 20 x 12 feet with a trunk diameter of 6 inches, that is native to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
The compressed, glossy green stem segments, up to 14 inches in length, are sparsely armed with yellowish-brown spines.
The yellow to deep orange flowers, up to 3 inches across, are borne summer into autumn. Pear-shaped, reddish-purple fruits, up to 3 inches across follow.
Hardy zones 8 to 11

* photo of unknown internet source

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