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What’s Blooming: Prickly Pear

By Staff | Jan 26, 2012

First impression: Christmas cactus like blooms in reddish pink. These bright blossoms cover the multitudes of paddle shaped light green pads. I notice the architecture and am amazed at the massive height and width of our 40 year old specimen. Somewhere under all these pads is a substantial trunk. No fragrance that I can detect, but a hummingbird would love to partake of this beauty. A sticky situation might occur if you try to pick these blossoms; you can look, but don’t touch this unique bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Prickly green pads, dimensional flowers, and a tasty fruit are clues on how our star got its name. Prickly Pear hails from the Cactaceae plant family, which include over 250 species. Opuntia, also known as nopales or paddle cactus, is a genus in this family. As a member of this genus you can expect drought tolerance and oodles of plant stages that are attractive to wildlife. Pollinators including hummers, feed on the sweet nectar from the long and slender red to pinky flowers. Each blossom consists of several flowers emerging from the end of the next flower, reminiscence of Christmas cactus blooms. When the flowers begin to wilt, they produce an amber-colored, pear-shaped, edible fruit. Our massive beauty has flowers and fruit all over its pads at the same time. The cochinellifera pads are said to be spineless, but there are very small minute barbs, so look out! These bars try to protect our cactus from all those critters, including us, who want to eat the delicious fruit. This fruit is an important food source for wildlife, who are rewarded when they can figure out the safest method of consuming some. Birds, foxes, raccoons, turtles and rabbits enjoy a refreshing meal on them. Songbirds, reptiles, turtles, tortoises, and small mammals shelter under and around protected by the plant’s spiny stems and pads. Hey what about us humans? If you are patient enough and remove all the spines, the pears taste like watermelon, with lots of juice. Peeled, sliced and sprinkled with lemon, they have a refreshing sweet tangy taste. The fruit is called Nopales; sometimes I see them in the grocery store labeled Tuna or Indian Figs. Prickly Pear is a fast growing cactus. In SW Florida our star may reach 10 feet in height and 10 feet wide. Pruning can be done carefully, but really not necessary. Propagation is usually by division. Always wear thick leather gloves and long sleeved shirt. Wrapping a long rolled-up section of newsprint or fabric around a pad provides a convenient handle that avoids the long spines and short glochids. Pads can then be cut off larger plants with hand clippers or saws. The cut pads wound should dry for about 3 days. I place mine in shady area under bushes etc. Plant the wounded pad with the wound in the ground. The wound will establish the new cacti with roots. Whaa-laAnother fabulous cactus, which will reward you for many years with ever changing stages of growth and beauty and lots of lessons in patience.

Pros: Unique bloomer – Does well in sandy soil – Likes full sun – Easy to maintain Easily propagated by pads Salt tolerance Makes great jelly – Is great for a specimen plant Great barrier for unwanted neighbors – Must have for Hummers – Cold tolerant Great habitat plant – Easy care

Cons: Be careful with barbs – Fast grower Non native – Who doesn’t love hummers????

Conclusion: Are cacti ugly? I think not, they can give us inspiration as true survivors. How do you show your love to our prickly pearvery carefully!

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!