(Pictured: Hardy Prickly Pear by SEWilco, off Wikipedia)
Opuntia humifusa is otherwise known as the hardy prickly pear or prickly pear cactus. It is a drought resistant evergreen perennial that goes well in containers or as a supplemental plant for rock gardens. There are more than 200 species of this type of cacti and are located mainly in Mexico, North America, South America and Central America.
A spreading cactus with two to six inch long pads, this cactus plant has sharp spines that can injure some pets and small children. Take care with where you have this particular cactus plant. They have bright yellow three to four inch wide blooms that come spring and summer. The fruit pulp of the cactus will have a watermelon-like flavor and be just as red in color. The egg-like sweet fruits (called tunas) are two to three inches in length and are red-green in color.
Plant a hardy prickly pear in full sun conditions in any soil choice, even poor soils will let this plant grow to its full potential. It grows best in USDA hardiness zones of 5 through 10. Propagate via seed or pad rooting, as most pads root easily. While this is a drought tolerant plant, it doesn’t like boggy conditions.
The hardy prickly pear is quite a food source everywhere but the United States. The pads of the cactus (the nopales) are green bean like in flavor and are a vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. The fruits (or tunas) are juicy and sweet in flavor. Production of tunas is twice the production of strawberries.
Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe
- 3 ½ cups of prickly pear tunas juice
- 1 package of jell pectin
- 6 cups of sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- To get the juice of the tunas, pick the cactus fruit in the fall season and place in water. Rinse them well and use tongs to pick them up and put on a cutting board.
- Cut the tunas in half and place in a large pot with water to the edge of the fruit’s top.
- Boil for 15 minutes and then mash well using a hand masher usually used for potatoes. Take the mashings and strain them through a linen cloth.
- Bring the juice, lemon, and the pectin to a boil, adding sugar afterwards. Boil until it is at the jelly stage in the thermometer.
- Pour in jars and cover with wax.
- Cool and seal containers.
The hardy prickly pear has many uses, both in the kitchen and in the garden as an ornamental plant. Often overlooked by many in the nursery, it makes a great choice for a versatile gardener to choose.