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Prickly Pear Cactus

Commonly Referred to As: Indian Fig

Scientific Name: Opuntia

Etymology -Believed to refer to a Greek region – Locris Opuntia with the town of Opus in Greece where other spiny plants grew.

Family: Cactaceae – approximately 90 genera and 2,500 species.

Most species of Cactaceae are spiny stem succulents, although there are a few woody shrubs (Pereskia) and more or less succulent epiphytes. Some species have tuberous roots or a fleshy taproot. The Prickly Pear Cactus, ranging in height from one to eight feet, has highly noticeable yellow flowers which bloom from May to July, and its fruit is edible by humans. The fruit, a round, reddish-purple berry, grows up to 2″ long, contains many flattened seeds that can be ground into a black flour, and is considered somewhat sweet to the human palate. It is not uncommon for the fruit to be used to make preserves.

Growing in soil compositions ranging from sandy to alkaline, the Prickly Pear Cactus is well suited to hot, dry conditions. In addition to serving as great native landscaping plants, the Prickly Pear provides shelter to songbirds and small mammals, and serves as a food source for quail, wild turkey, doves, thrashers and woodpeckers, along with many mammals, such as fox, squirrel and rabbit.


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