The Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is easy to spot as the lone species of cacti found in Indiana. Like other spiny succulent, the prickly pear has flat, fleshy pads (called cladodes) covered in spiky spines.
The flower of the prickly pear is its best attribute. In Southern Indiana, the spectacular yellow flower can be seen in June. Up north, it can be viewed well into July. Regardless of where you see it, the showy bloom set amidst the plant’s thorny skin is a sight to see.
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After flowering, a red, egg-shaped fruit begins to appear. The fruits are edible, and can be eaten raw after removing the skin. Jellies, candies and other sweets are often made from the fruit, while others prefer the fleshy pads of the plant to snack on.
As with other cacti, care must be taken when handling the prickly pear. Their thorny spines can grow up to several inches in length though these large spines are the least of your worries. The hair-like, less visible spines known as glochids are painful and difficult to remove. Be sure to wear thick gloves when handling this beautiful, native cactus.
How to Eat a Prickly Pear
Prickly pear cactus has been a Mexican and Central American staple in their diet for thousands of years. In some parts of the United States there has been a growing interest in using the edible cactus as part of their healthy, albeit exotic, diet as well. There are two edible parts of the prickly pear plant: the pad, or nopal, of the cactus which is often treated like a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit, is usually sold as tuna - what the plant is known as in Spanish.
While prickly pears are usually used in jellies, there have been more creative ways that the cactus has been prepared in the kitchen. Check out Cooks.com and Mighty Foods blog for yummy, interesting recipes ranging for sweet treats to grilled nopales and pickled prickly pear.
Prickly Pear in Your Yard
Many Hoosiers like to plant this native cacti in their backyards not knowing that they are difficult to control. A single plant can quickly grown into a dense, tangled colony before you know it.
Planting the prickly pear in a pot is a great way to control the spreading. If the cacti is already growing out of control, Purdue Pest & Plant Diagnostics Lab has a few solutions to rid prickly pear from your property.
Prickly Pear in our Yard
If you want to admire this Midwestern desert plant but don't want the work that comes with planting it, check out the following preserves. We maintain them, you enjoy them!