Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus – indica or commonly prickly pear, family: Cactaceae) is a cactus
tree (the water content is 87.5%). The tree has no leaves and it reaches 3-5 meters in height.
Like most cactus plants, prickly pear has long spines on the shoots. These spines help the
plant to retain its moisture and prevent animals to destroy it. It consists of flattened oval
shaped cladodes 20-50 long cm and 10-20 cm width, and as time passes they become very
strong and create a solid stem.
The fruit has a barrel – pear-shaped figure. It is fleshy with many seeds and the flesh has over
many small spines (length 5 – 8m) which ripen during August – September. Their weight is
from 150 to 400 grams and the color of the fruit varies according to the variety.
Most prickly pear trees have large yellow or orange flowers.
The origin of prickly pear is from Mexico. In the US, Brazil and Mexico it is systematically
cultivated mainly for animal use. In southern Italy, Spain and North Africa people use prickly
pear mainly as fruit.
CLIMATE AND SOIL REQUIREMENTS
The prickly pear is versatile and able to adapt to the surrounding conditions. Growing prickly
pear successfully relies on a warm, dry climate. Ideal temperature is above 0°C. It loves dry
and rocky places with no soil moisture.
The prickly pear does not need pruning because it might rot. The plant’s need for water is
minimal, but through watering we may increase production plant viability.
We can propagate prickly pears in two ways, either by seed (sexual propagation), or by
extracting a shoot (asexual multiplication) of the mother plant, which are placed for a few
days apart soil and then planted. Planting can be made throughout the year, and in two
ways depending on the season and the climate. Either place a sheet in half in the ground or
side down a sheet on the ground and on top put a stone, up from the lower side of the sheet
Prickly pear is rich in vitamin C and A. It contains amino acids, iron, calcium, potassium,
magnesium, etc. It is very low-calorific value. It stimulates the immune system, helps to
reduce stress and stabilizes the cholesterol which helps to lower blood pressure. Moreover,
it stabilizes the level of blood glucose and is effective in treating diabetes type 2.
We can use prickly pear as fresh fruit or we can make tea, jam and pickle.