Prickly subject

Prickly pear cacti are sprouting new treats for eating


Darrick Proctor

Spike of flavor. Prickly pears are apart of a plentiful species that have many spines and this specific variety of cactus has glochids. This photo shows a good example of how the prickly pear cactus has paddle like flesh instead of the typical cylindrical cactus.

The prickly pear, also known as the pear cactus, is a family of flowering cacti that are native to the deserts of North America, particularly located in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The prickly pear cactus produces a fruit that is usually red, green, or orange in color, depending on the species.
“I really am looking forward to seeing my prickly pear plants actually produce fruit, I have been growing it since December,” said Cara Waldum, a senior.
When growing a prickly pear cactus, it is essential that the plant receives full sunlight with well-draining soil. For better results, plant the cacti during the spring or summer time. Peaking in late summer through early winter, the prickly pear’s fruit is ripe for harvest in September through December. The root system is somewhat shallow, allowing for it to grow in shallow or loose soil. The prickly pear plant is hearty, and can survive long dry spells, which makes it perfect for the desert. “There have been multiple occasions where I have actually witnessed the wildlife eating the little pink fruits, and usually the leftover pieces can be seen on the ground,” said Dan Greenwood, a parent.
Prickly pears provide a food source for a variety of animals, including birds, iguanas, and javelina. Javelinas and other desert animals have hardened skin tissue inside their mouths that protect them against the sharp needles. Along with these desert animals, humans have also been seen eating prickly pears for years. The fruit produced is edible, but the outer layer must be removed entirely before consumption. The outer layer can be easily peeled off after an incision with a knife. It is recommended when handling the pear cactus to wear gloves for protection against the needles. The fruit’s flavor is sweet and floral, sometimes compared to a melon. Other pear cactus fruits can be described as bitter depending on the species. When trying to pick the ripest prickly pear it is important to look for firm skin, and no signs of decay such as soft spots, mold, or bruises. For example, red cactus fruit or tunas rojas, when ripe, should have a deep red color with no green. “One of my favorite things to do with prickly pears is to make them into jams for my neighbors,” said Molly Betcher, a senior.
The prickly pear fruit can be prepared into a variety of foods, jams, syrups, and drinks. One of which is called Agua de Tuna, which consists of orange juice, prickly pear fruit, and agave syrup. The fruit can also be made into a jelly, using ingredients like fruit pectin, the prickly pear fruit, lemon juice, and white sugar. With winter coming to a close new prickly pears are expected to start poping up all over the desert.

More on the prickly pear
There are roughly 150 species in the Opuntia family of cacti with prickly pear making up a subgroup. Most varieties of prickly pear cacti have lots of spines and flat, fleshy paddles. Certain species have no spines at all such as the Ellisiana prickly pears. Other members of the Opuntia genus are unique due to their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. The Opuntia ficus-indica is the most commonly found prickly pear species, and it is a frequently seen plant amongst gardens in desert climates, as well as being habitually used as an ingredient in adobe for housing.