Everything You Need to Know About Opuntia

Plants are probably the only living organism that is gonna gift your a handful. Not only they are gonna make your place look greener and more attractive, but they are also gonna give you so much more than you can imagine. Making a list of their benefits, uses might surprise you a bit. Starting from providing oxygen and food, to decoration and air purification – they’d give you all and in return, they are just gonna need a little bit of your time.

The opuntia plant is one of the plants which is gonna provide you with a lot of benefits. The opuntia plant, also known as the prickly pear is erect and spreading cacti. They range from small shrubs and can grow up to tree-like heights. You’d observe these flat joints which have paddle-like cladodes which can be seen arising from one end to another. The prickly pear cactus reproduce asexually. They would grow flowers which makes them look more attractive. They have this yellow, pink, and even orange flowers and grows with feature stamens that are sensitive to touch and move in response. The prickly pear fruit is a reddish berry that is armed with spines.

Armed with spines

The prickly pear is also known as nopal, the edible fruits are very popular in tropical and sub-tropical countries. They can grow to about 18 feet long and blooms about 3-4 inches long flowers. The seeds of the plants can be used to produce oil too. The stems are also used as emergency stock feed if faced with drought. One can easily propagate the plant from the stem segments.

How fast do prickly pear cactus grow | Care guide

The plant has over 40 species. The growth rate of the plant is quite slow – the plant usually takes years to grow and can take three or up to four years to grow and form a new plant to start fruiting. It's best to plant the prickly pear cactus outside in spring. It's better to let the threat of frost pass. You can also plant the opuntia plant indoors by cutting the stem. The prickly pear plant is a low-maintenance plant.

Hot and dry climates are what these plants prefer. The drought-tolerant plant won’t need too much of your time. You can use the plant in landscape beds, as borders, and in containers as well. There are different species to the plant and each of them needs different caring. The key is always the ample sun and well-drained soil. Let us talk about their requirements so that you can just grow the finest Opuntia flower at your place –

Light

Being a member of the cacti, and being desert cacti prickly pear cactus prefers full sunlight to grow the best. Give them about 6 hours of sunlight and they would grow better. You can also grow them indoors if you do ensure that you plant them near a south-facing window. West-facing windows also work.

Water

They like to stay dry. Miss some of the watering schedules and they would grow just fine. They need very little watering. So if you have a low-water garden of your own, you can have the plant in it. If it is about when to water, we’d recommend you to water the plant every two or three weeks. Make sure that the soil is completely dry when you water them. Don’t soak the soil with water though, just keep them moist. Minimal rainfall would also work, and you won’t need to worry about them at all.

Soil

This is an important factor for a prickly cactus. They prefer soil that drains well. The Opuntia genus prefers well-draining soil. They’d grow in the sandy type of soil. You can also use gravelly soil if you have them. The requirement is good drainage. You won’t need fertilizer. If the quality of soil is poor, you might need some thought. A balanced fertilizer during the growing season would work then. If you have larger pads, go for nitrogen fertilizer. If you are fond of the opuntia flower or the fruits, use low nitrogen fertilizers.

Temperature

Temperature

As said, they like hot climates. Some of the species are also cold tolerant. Mild winters and hot summers with low humidity are what they like the best. The typical indoor humidity or temperature would work for the cactus. Keep the plant away from air conditioners or the heaters if you have any in your place. They don’t like temperature fluctuations.

Opuntia diagram with labelling

Opuntia diagram with labelling

Opuntia identification | Opuntia Species

Opuntia is one of the most popular cacti in the world. Even if the plant is most popular in those regions, nowadays these species are found all over the world, they are now naturalized to some point where it’s classified as a noxious weed.

Opuntia cactus has this flat paddle-shaped stem segments, these segments are called cladodes. The cladodes are the ones that grow on top of the other. The cladodes are further covered with areoles that have detached spines called glochids. There are different Opuntia species, but most of the species have large and formidable spines. Other species are only armed with glochids. The soft and fuzzy – don’t go by the look though you can get hurt just by touching them. The glochids are highly irritating, this can be used to make itching powder as well.

The opuntia flowers are yellow, or sometimes pink as well. You might also find the rare white flowers – they look adorable. The cup-shaped flowers are perfect to enhance the charm of your place. They do not have floral tubes, they have round-shaped pericarples. The new growth is hard to tell – if it’s gonna be a flower or a cladode. They are covered with cone-shaped deciduous leaves. Most people prefer the opuntias have fleshy and juicy fruits – they are called ‘Tunas’. The tunas can be further harvested into candies and jellies.

Varieties

  1. Opuntia monacantha – Also known as the drooping prickly pear, or the barbary fig. This succulent is a thorny shrub that has tree-like branches and can reach a height of up to 5 m.
  2. Opuntia humifusa – This plant is also commonly known as the devil’s tongue. The green stems of this plant are flattened and are formed as a result of segments. You’d find flowers ranging from yellow to gold in colour. With maturity, the colour changes from green to red or purple.
  3. Opuntia cochenillifera – The cochineal cactus is the evergreen small tree. This tree can grow up to 4 to 5 meters long. The fruits and stems of this plant are edible. The cochineal insects get their host from this plant. This plant can be found in Central America, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rica.
  4. Opuntia engelmannii – This prickly pear cactus is popular across the South-central parts of the United States. You can also find this in the Southwestern parts of the country. Northern Mexico is also famous for growing this particular cactus.
  5. Opuntia robusta – Also known as the wheel cactus and the nopal tapon, this species of the cactus is from the family of Cactaceae. You’d find this in the central and northern Mexico parts. These plants are generally 1 meter high. Give them proper care and they would grow up to 3 meters long. These have barrel-shaped fleshy fruits that are pink and purple.

Opuntia scientific name

Opuntia ficus-Indica is the scientific name of the prickly pear cactus.

Prickly pear benefits | Uses

Along with the fact that you can use the plant to decorate our place, the prickly pear plant has got a lot of benefits and uses as well. The plant serves as a diet in Mexican cultures too. The young opuntias are eaters according to their culture. The plant has got a lot of medicinal benefits also. The prickly pear cactus can be used for two different types of diabetes. You don’t need to worry If you have high cholesterol or alcohol hangover. This can also be used to fight colitis, diarrhea, viral infections. The prickly pear juice can be used to make candies and jellies as well.

The fibre and pectin of the plant can be used to lower blood glucose levels. This can decrease the absorption of sugar in the intestines.

Diabetes

One of the best uses for the plant is that just a single dose of the cactus can decrease blood sugar levels by about 17 per cent, or sometimes up to 46 per cent. Although extended daily use of the fruit isn’t yet tested. The broiled stems of the plant can be taken to cure people with 2 types of diabetes. Ensure that you don’t take the raw or the crude stem of the plant – they aren’t believed to work as better as the broiled ones.

Cholesterol

Research shows that taking the edible pulp of the prickly pear cactus daily for about a month, obviously following a diet can reduce lipoprotein cholesterol levels from the human body inherited with high cholesterol.

Metabolic Syndrome

Taking a specific product of dehydrated levels of the fruit for about 6 weeks won’t affect the fat levels present in the blood of women with metabolic syndrome.

Hangover

This might seem surprising, but taking the prickly pear fruit before consumption of alcohol helps. The reduction of symptoms of hangover has been observed after taking the fruit. It can reduce nausea, dry mouth, and anorexia.

Spineless prickly pear plant

Most people dislike cacti because of the spines in them. But, you don’t need to worry as there’s a spineless prickly pear that you can easily grow at your place. The Ellisiana cactus can grow without spines. But the plant might have tiny slivers from the pads. The scientific name being Opuntia cacanapa is known as the spineless prickly pear. Remember that the cactus is quite cold hardy for a succulent. The plant hardiness zone lies between 6 through 10.

You can easily grow the spineless prickly pear in your backyard. The soil should be right though. A rich and well-drained soil is what they love. Go for gritty or sandy soil. You don’t need to water the plant much. Evenly moist during the summer and very less irrigation during the winter is what makes them happy.

Prickly pear cactus habitat and adaptations

The prickly cactus is generally found across all the deserts you’d find in the American Southwest. You’d find different species which are adapted to a different locale and different elevation ranges. Most of the species need coarse and well-drained soil mainly in the dry, rocky slopes. Although some prefer mountain pinyon/juniper forests – the others need steep and rocky slopes lying in the mountain foothills.

Prickly pear yellowing problem

You might come across this problem when you grow a prickly pear. Colours do tell us a lot about a plant. One thing is for sure if you observe your plant turning yellow, this isn’t a good sign. But, there are a lot of things you can do to fix that. Let’s first understand why happened what happened.

Placement

This can be one of the reasons your cactus is turning yellow. As said, the plant needs a specific amount of direct sunlight every day. That is about 6 to 9 hours. But sometimes the plants might get overwhelmed when they receive too much light. This can burn the leaves of the plant. So put them in places accordingly. If planted indoors, put them behind a curtain instead of putting them directly on a window – this would help the plant not to burn the leaves. Don’t plant the plant in too small a pot.

Watering

They need to be watered correctly. Watering the cactus too much can be a problem. The soil getting too wet can bring a yellow shade on the succulent. The plants don’t prefer moist conditions. Underwatering can be a problem sometimes too, don’t just water them once a month, do observe the soil and water them as the soil turns dry completely.

The easiest way to transplanting prickly pear

The best way you can do that is by cutting off the individual pads of the plant. You can also cut off the cluster pads. Cut the individual branches with chollas. The cut-off pieces should be allowed to lie on the ground for some days or so until the cut area gets scabbed over. Do this during the active growing season. Avoid doing the same in cold weather.

FAQs

What is Opuntia used for?

Opuntia can be used for making medicines related to blood sugar levels and cholesterol. This plant can be used to fight diabetes. The juice of the fruit can be used to make jellies and candies.


Is Opuntia a desert plant?

Yes. Opuntia is a desert plant and prefers a hot climate. The plant is drought tolerant like most desert plants and needs well-drained soil to grow.


Is Opuntia found in India?

Yes, opuntia is found in India. Mostly in the desert areas of the country.


What is the difference between Opuntia and cactus?

Opuntia commonly known as the prickly pear is a genus of the cactus family – Cactaceae. There are different types of cactus as well.


Can humans eat prickly pear?

Yes, fruits from most of the prickly pears are edible.


Are prickly pears good for you?

Yes. Prickly pears have got many health benefits starting from fighting high cholesterol to decreasing blood sugar levels. Prickly pears are edible.


What does prickly pear do for the body?

Prickly pear can help maintain the blood sugar levels of the body and is perfect for diabetes patients. The fruit is also known to be effective for people with high cholesterol.


What does a prickly pear taste like?

The taste is sweet and is quite similar to a melon.


What causes the Opuntia plant to turn yellow?

Too much sunlight sometimes burns the leaves of the plant. Overwatering and soaking the soil completely with water can also turn the plant yellow.

How does the prickly pear cactus store water?

They can store water in their pads and can use it in any drought or when they face underwatering. They can also store water by modifying their leaves to spine.


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