Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus
Eastern Prickly Pear Opuntia humifusa © Angie Cole

Stories in Indiana

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus

A tough perennial with a delicate bloom.

A Cactus in Indiana?

The Eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) is easy to spot. Like other spiny succulents, the prickly pear has flat, fleshy pads (called cladodes) covered in spiky spines. The prickly pear produces showy yellow flowers

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 some people also snack on the fleshy pads of the plant.

Be sure to wear thick gloves when handling this beautiful, native cactus. 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. 

How to Eat a Prickly Pear

Prickly pear cactus has been a Mexican and Central American dietary staple for thousands of years. In some parts of the United States, there is a growing interest in eating prickly pear.

There are two edible parts of the prickly pear plant: the pad, or nopal, of the cactus which is often treated as a vegetable, and the pear, or fruit, is usually sold as tuna—the plant's Spanish.

Prickly Pear in Your Yard

Many people like to plant this native cactus in their backyards not knowing that they are difficult to control. A single plant can quickly grow into a dense, tangled colony.

Planting the prickly pear in a pot is a great way to control the spreading. If the cactus is already growing out of control, Purdue Pest & Plant Diagnostics Lab has a few solutions to rid prickly pear from your property.