Prickly Pear Plants: How To Grow These Spiny Foods

Prickly pear vegetation (Opuntia spp.) are a big genus of cacti native to the Americas. They’re each edible and decorative vegetation of historic significance in southwestern United States and Mexico. One even seems on the flag of Mexico as a part of the nation’s creation story. 

Prickly pear vegetation are in style for his or her distinctive pads and colourful fruit, each of that are extremely nutritious. These vegetation are hardy and straightforward to develop, which make them a well-liked alternative for gardeners. Nevertheless, when rising prickly pear, it is very important know that it is a prolific plant that may unfold and develop right into a dense colony beneath the correct circumstances.

Opuntia is a big plant genus with many species. Their particular progress wants and geographies fluctuate, however all are likely to favor full solar and well-draining soil. Prickly pear vegetation are an amazing addition of visible curiosity and taste to many gardens.  

Fast Care Information

Prickly pear plant.
Widespread Identify(s) Prickly pear, jointed cactus, Indian fig, barbary fig, japanese prickly pear, bunny ears cactus, nopal, tuna fruit, tiger pear
Scientific Identify Opuntia spp.
Days to Harvest Relying on the species, it might take a number of years of progress to have the ability to harvest the cactus fruit.
Mild Full solar 
Water Water each 10-14 days and test to ensure the soil is totally dry earlier than water. 
Soil Nicely-draining gravelly to sandy soil
Fertilizer Usually no fertilizer is required for outside vegetation. Indoor vegetation could profit from a balanced fertilizer. Use excessive nitrogen fertilizer to advertise pad progress for harvest. Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer to advertise fruiting and flowering. 
Pests Cochineal scale, cactus longhorn beetle, cactus moths, cactus bugs  
Ailments Phyllosticta pad spot, Opuntia Sammon’s virus 

All About Prickly Pear Vegetation

Ripe prickly pears
Ripe prickly pears.

Prickly pears are a part of the genus Opuntia and subgenus Platyopuntia, or “flat-Opuntia”, due to their distinctive fleshy pads that stack on high of one another. As they develop, new pads develop on high of earlier ones. These pads are lined in spines and are sometimes inexperienced to blue in colour. 

One selection, the O. santa rita, is hanging due to its vibrant violet colour. As a result of their form, prickly pear vegetation are also referred to as paddle cactus and jointed cactus. Prickly pear cactus are identified for his or her showy pink, orange, pink, or yellow flowers which might bloom beneath the correct circumstances in spring or summer season. 

The flowers end in edible, pear-shaped fruits that are known as cactus pear or tuna fruit. These fruits may tackle many various colours equivalent to inexperienced, yellow, pink, or purple. The looks of flowers, fruits, spines, and pads are all depending on environmental circumstances.  

Prickly pear vegetation are properly tailored to arid climates which signifies that they’ve wide-spreading and fibrous roots to maximise their floor space to seize restricted moisture. Additionally they have the aptitude of fixing carbon dioxide at night time and shutting their stomata in the course of the day to help with water retention. 

They mostly unfold vegetatively when pads break off and root, however may also unfold over giant distances within the droppings of animals who eat the fruits. New vegetation can develop year-round and require minimal care as soon as established.  

Sure species of Opuntia are native to the American southwest whereas others originate from Mexico and the West Indies. Prickly pear can be present in different areas of the world equivalent to across the Mediterranean basin, Africa, and Australia. Of the almost sixty totally different species of Opuntia, one species, O. aurantiaca, is federally labeled as a noxious weed. 

Prickly pear pads and fruits are each thought of superfoods for his or her excessive dietary worth however must be ready with care. Whereas some prickly pear vegetation have giant spines, others have hair-like barbed bristles that may irritate the pores and skin. The pads or nopales could be sliced and pickled, juiced, or cooked and utilized in salads. The fruits could be eaten uncooked or used to make jams, jellies, candies, wines, and syrups. 

There are a lot of extra makes use of for prickly pear vegetation together with as livestock feed and even pure dye. The juice of mature fruits has been traditionally used to dye wool or material because of the energy of the colour and likewise antifungal and antibacterial properties. 

Prickly Pear Varieties

Opuntia 'Santa Rita'
Opuntia ‘Santa Rita’.

Prickly pears are half of a big genus of Opuntia vegetation with many sorts and almost 60 species. Listed below are just a few frequent varieties:

Opuntia ficus indica, generally often called Indian fig or barbary fig, is a species native to Mexico and Central America. It’s extensively cultivated around the globe as a domesticated crop for its candy edible fruits. A typical specimen has a blue-green coloration, thick and flat pads, and orange or yellow flowers. It grows properly in poor soil circumstances and beneath excessive temperatures. 

Opuntia humifusa is a sprawling species native to the japanese United States and Canada and is often often called the japanese prickly pear cactus.  It has clusters of small, spherical pads and showy pink or yellow flowers. As a result of this species can tolerate chilly temperatures, it is without doubt one of the solely prickly pear vegetation that may be discovered all through the japanese U.S. and whilst far north as Ontario. 

Native Individuals not solely ate the pads and the fruit for meals but in addition used them for medicinal profit. This species tends to shrivel and dry up within the winter however will regain its blue-green colour beginning in early spring to early summer season. 

Opuntia microdasys is also referred to as angel’s wings, bunny ears, or polka-dotted cactus for his or her clusters of sharp yellow glochids. It’s native to northern Mexico and southwestern U.S. This species isn’t frost tolerant in contrast with the japanese prickly pear and can must be introduced indoors throughout chilly spills. It is usually generally grown as a houseplant. 

Different well-known forms of prickly pear vegetation embody beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), violet prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita), pancake prickly pear (Opuntia chlorotica), large prickly pear (Opuntia streptacantha), Texas prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii), and coastal prickly pear (Opuntia littoralis)

In perennial cool seasons, prickly pear cacti can develop as much as 12 toes tall and 4 toes huge. Broad and waxy ones can have pads that develop as much as 6 inches lengthy and might attain 20 toes tall. 

Planting Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus is a simple visible curiosity so as to add to your backyard or residence. They are often planted at any time of yr, however one of the best time to develop them is in the course of the hotter months of the yr when the soil is heat and there may be full solar. 

As with many succulents, planting depth is necessary to forestall rotting. Younger prickly pear pads ought to be capable to stand upright and at a depth of round ½ to ¾ inches beneath the soil floor at its deepest. 

Prickly pear cactus desire well-draining soil and full daylight. They’re extraordinarily drought tolerant and might develop in quite a lot of soils, however they do greatest in sandy or rocky soil. They are often planted within the floor or in containers, so long as the container has ample drainage. 

Prickly pears, like many succulents, could be simply rooted and propagated. Whereas it’s attainable to begin them from seed, the germination charges are low and it takes a very long time for the plant to develop.  

Prickly Pear Plant Care

Opuntia cactus pads
Opuntia cactus pads.

Prickly pear cactus is comparatively low upkeep and might thrive with the right combination of daylight, water, and vitamins. Correct care and fertilization can encourage fruit manufacturing. One of the frequent errors in relation to caring for prickly pear vegetation is making an attempt to offer it an excessive amount of love by overwatering. 

Solar and Temperature

Prickly pear cactus thrives beneath full solar circumstances. It’s greatest to develop them in an space that receives ample and direct daylight per day. Whereas most Opuntia cactus should not tolerant of chilly climate, there are particular species that may be hardy right down to zone 3b and thrive within the cooler climates of Canada. 

Water and Humidity

As desert dwellers, these cacti are extremely tailored to outlive in arid circumstances and dry climate. Water your vegetation each 10-14 days or each time the soil is totally dry at a depth of 2-3 inches beneath the floor. Don’t water if this area has any wetness. It’s possible you’ll want to cut back irrigation within the winter months with shorter sunlight hours and fewer evaporation. 

When the nighttime temperatures drop beneath 60° F, cease watering altogether. These vegetation are sometimes beneficial to drought-conscious gardeners as a water-efficient decorative. Use common watering greatest practices, and maintain irrigation near the bottom of the plant as an alternative of overhead. 


Prickly pear cactus thrives in well-draining soil and might even tolerate poor soil circumstances. Should you’re rising these vegetation as a houseplant, choose a cactus potting combine to make sure that the soil is appropriate. Prickly pear vegetation should not have particular pH necessities and might develop in poor soil high quality.

Fertilizing Prickly Pear Cactus

Most growers don’t use extra fertilizer for prickly pear, as water is a very powerful issue that impacts the well being and progress of the plant. Nevertheless, in the event you plan to have giant harvests of pads, you need to use a extra nitrogen-based fertilizer. 

To advertise extra showy flowers and ample fruits, use a fertilizer that doesn’t have nitrogen or one with a 0-10-0 NPK. Comply with the producer’s instructions on the label and apply as soon as a month year-round. Indoor cacti may also profit from occasional fertilization with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer because the vitamins in pots are likely to get depleted sooner. 

Pruning Prickly Pear Cactus

Pruning prickly pear cactus isn’t typically required except the aim is to manage the growth of the plant, take cuttings or take away a broken or diseased part. There are a number of pathogens that may have an effect on prickly pears. 

The removing of those illness sections will assist handle the unfold of the illness, notably if the pathogen spreads via sporulation. Pads on the decrease a part of the plant are essentially the most weak to illness because of the comparatively greater humidity close to these areas. 

Prickly Pear Cactus Propagation

Prickly pear cactus could be propagated utilizing quite a lot of strategies, together with cuttings, seeds, and grafting. 

The most typical and efficient methodology of propagation is to take pad cuttings, much like how prickly pear spreads within the wild. Use rubbing alcohol to sanitize instruments earlier than beginning. Snip a wholesome pad off of a mature plant and wait just a few days for the wound to dry. Place the cut-side down right into a pot with soil and water properly. The chopping will root inside a weeks days. Ultimately, new pads will bud from the margins of the chopping.  

One other methodology is to plant seeds though the germination fee could be low. Take a ripe fruit and wash away any fruit pulp surrounding the seed. Use a pointy software or sandpaper to scarify the robust outer seed coat after which soak the seeds for a number of days earlier than planting. Ensure the seeds are buried very shallowly to encourage germination. 

We at Epic Gardening have a publish that particulars each taking cuttings and rising from seed for prickly pear cactus propagation.

The third and extra commercially used methodology of propagation is grafting. This system is usually used to provide a extra fascinating progress behavior, flowers, or enhance the plant’s survivability by grafting it onto hardier root inventory. This methodology may be very time intensive and never sometimes utilized by the house gardener. 

Harvesting and Storing Prickly Pear Cactus

Harvested prickly pear fruit
Harvested prickly pear fruit.

Prickly pear cacti could be harvested for his or her fleshy pads or for fruits. Ensure to deal with each with care as to not injure your self within the course of. Don’t wash the pads or fruits till after the spines and glochids have been eliminated. Even spineless varieties can nonetheless trigger irritation from their tiny glochids.


Prickly pear fruits should be harvested when ripe as a result of they won’t proceed to ripen as soon as picked. In North America, their season sometimes begins in August and ends in September. As soon as the fruit has been harvested, it may be saved within the fridge for a number of days or processed and frozen for long-term storage. 

Among the finest methods of harvesting is to make use of tongs along with carrying gloves. Gently squeeze them to check for ripeness. The fruits are able to be picked when the tongs go away behind a slight indentation. The scale and colour could not at all times be one of the best indication of ripeness since that is dependent upon the variability. 

Use the tongs to rigorously twist the fruit till it separates from the pad. As a result of the glochids on the fruits could be very sharp and tiny, they might trigger irritation if not eliminated. Use the tongs to carry the fruit in place whereas utilizing a protracted lighter to burn the surface of the fruit. 

These glochids simply burn off and might make processing simpler. It’s also possible to char off the surface utilizing tongs and the flames of a fuel range. Run the charred fruit beneath water and use a vegetable brush to take away the pores and skin. 

Use tongs and put on thick gloves when harvesting prickly pear pads. Bend the pad away from the supporting pad beneath. Make a clear lower on the joint utilizing sanitized instruments equivalent to a pointy knife. It’s higher to reap the pads within the morning as a result of the acid content material in them varies all through the day. 

Harvest youthful pads relatively than giant pads for a extra tender texture. Use a knife to rigorously lower away the spines or needle beds and peel the pad to entry the flesh. Nopal cactus is an ingredient accessible in grocery shops. Usually, business growers develop spineless nopales varieties for culinary use.


Prickly pear fruits could be saved for a number of days within the fridge earlier than use. Complete fruits can be saved within the freezer as one of many steps to juicing. Prickly pear juice could be saved for as much as one yr within the freezer. Juices can be made into jelly, candies, jams, syrups, and even alcoholic drinks to increase the shelf life.  

Should you’re not utilizing the fruits for juice, peel them, take away the seeds, and slice them into bite-sized chunks. Place the items in a single layer on a tray till frozen. They will then be transferred into freezer baggage and saved for a number of months.

Prickly pear pads can’t be saved for long-term within the fridge resulting from their excessive water content material and tendency to show slimy. Whereas they are often frozen or strain canned like inexperienced beans, these processes will change the feel of the flesh to be mushier. Prickly pear cactus could be preserved as a pickle or dehydrated utilizing the oven or a dehydrator to 175° F levels over a number of hours to help with long-term storage. 


Prickly pear with scale and other pest issues
Prickly pear with scale and different pest points.

Prickly pear is usually a simple plant to look after, however there is perhaps some frequent points related to rising circumstances, pests, and illnesses. It’s necessary to look at the plant and slim down the attainable causes to search out the correct options. 

Rising Issues

The most typical rising issues can happen resulting from overwatering. Root rot is a matter that may happen when the soil is just too moist for too lengthy. It is very important let the soil dry fully between watering and to not bury cuttings too deeply to forestall this challenge. Having sufficient draining can be necessary for wholesome progress. Poorly draining soil may even enhance the possibilities of root rot. 

Underwatering may also happen, particularly with houseplants. The pads will wilt, yellow, and brown, and ultimately die if not water for a protracted time frame.

Varied climate circumstances may also trigger some progress points. Sunscald is feasible even for desert vegetation in the event that they have been initially grown in greenhouses and nurseries. Sunburn on cactus manifests in giant tan patches that may ultimately scar.  

In case you are buying cacti from a greenhouse and plan to make use of them within the panorama, it’s best to slowly transfer the plant exterior for just a few hours a day to assist them acclimate to a unique setting and full solar. Transplanting in late winter may also assist to forestall sunburn because the photo voltaic rays are much less intense.   

Frost and freeze can injury species that aren’t cold-tolerant. Choose the correct species on your native circumstances and canopy your vegetation with a floating row cowl or cotton sheet in case of an unseasonable chilly spell. In case your vegetation are potted in containers, they are often moved indoors till the climate improves. 

Hail may also trigger some injury to prickly pear vegetation and could be mitigated utilizing these similar strategies.  


With its sharp spines and aggravating barbs, the prickly pear cactus has a pure protection system in opposition to many animals and customary pests. Nevertheless, there are a number of bugs that aren’t postpone by their formidable look. 

Cochineal scale (Dactylopius coccus) is a mealybug-like scale insect that secretes a white, waxy outer coating; it appears like tufts of cotton on the stems and pads of the plant. To confirm this insect, crush the insect and search for deep pink physique fluids. Crushed scale was used historically as cochineal dye. The scales could be washed away by a robust stream of water or an utility of insecticidal cleaning soap. 

Cactus longhorn beetle (Moneilema gigas) is one other frequent pest that assaults a number of kinds of cacti together with these within the Opuntia genus. Grownup beetles vary from 1-1 ¼ inches in size and are shiny and black in look. They have a tendency to feed alongside the margins of the pads and their larvae would possibly tunnel via the stems and roots which is able to trigger the plant to die. 

The beetles are energetic in early mornings and evenings and are straightforward to identify to select off. Hand-picking this pest normally might help to get the difficulty beneath management. Very spiny varieties are sometimes not affected resulting from their pure defenses.

Throughout lengthy durations of drought, small mammals would possibly nibble on the cacti to entry water. These vegetation can recuperate from just a few bites and no extra controls are wanted.  

A number of bugs have additionally been used as a organic management to manage the unfold of invasive cacti. The cactus moth (Cactoblastis cactorum) was efficiently used in opposition to invasive cacti in Australia and was launched from South America. The larvae of this moth burrows into the pads and consumes the flesh from the within. 

The invasion additionally makes the vegetation extra weak to secondary fungal and bacterial infections. This insect isn’t present in North America. Different species of bugs have been used within the U.S. which incorporates the North American cactus moth (Melitara dentata), the blue cactus borer (Olycella subumbrella), and the cactus bug (Chelinidea vittiger).


Prickly pears are hardy and resilient vegetation that aren’t vulnerable to many illnesses. There are solely two to pay attention to. 

Phyllosticta pad spot is attributable to a fungal pathogen. The fungus will produce small, black reproductive buildings that end in black lesions on Opuntia species. Spores unfold rapidly via rain or wind and might trigger heavy infections after moist durations. The easiest way to fight this illness is to maintain the pads dry and to take away any pads with seen lesions. In case of a extreme an infection, your entire plant must be eliminated. 

Just like the Phyllosticta pad spot, one other illness, Sammons’ virus, additionally doesn’t have management strategies in addition to removing of the contaminated elements or the entire plant. This virus is carefully associated to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus and is categorized as a Tobamovirus. Like TMV, this virus ends in yellow rings on the tip of the pads. The infections don’t appear to trigger noticeable injury to plant well being.  

Ceaselessly Requested Questions

Ripening prickly pears
Ripening prickly pears.

Q: The place does prickly pear develop greatest?

A: Develop prickly pear vegetation in sunny areas with gravelly to sandy soil. Typically, vegetation within the wild could be discovered on the rocky facet of south-facing slopes and hills. They’re properly suited to arid to semi-arid landscapes. 

Q: How briskly does prickly pear develop?

A: Underneath the correct circumstances, prickly pears can rapidly colonize an space via vegetative propagation and type a dense colony. This poses some concern for wildlife and the grazing high quality of land. Throughout drought years, they’ll sometimes outperform different native vegetation like grasses.

Q: Why are prickly pears an issue?

A: They will unfold rapidly if unchecked in wild areas around the globe and is a selected challenge in Australia. There may be additionally one species that’s labeled as a noxious weed within the U.S. A typical land administration apply is to make use of scheduled burning to manage their unfold. Nevertheless, vegetation could be simply managed in residence gardens. 

Q: Are prickly pears straightforward to develop?

A: Sure, prickly pears are straightforward to develop as soon as established. 

Q: Are you able to contact prickly pear?

A: No, you shouldn’t contact them as a result of they’ve removable spines or sharp hairs known as glochids. Each could cause discomfort and pores and skin irritation. It’s greatest to deal with prickly pear vegetation with heavy-duty rubber gloves and tongs. 

Q: What month do prickly pears bloom?

A: Prickly pears sometimes bloom from late spring to late summer season relying on the particular selection and rising setting. Some can begin blooming as early as April whereas others gained’t begin till early summer season. The months in bloom additionally rely upon through which hemisphere these vegetation are grown. 

Q: What’s the lifespan of a prickly pear cactus?

A: These vegetation have a large lifespan relying on the variability and might reside a protracted life beneath appropriate circumstances. The Opuntia ficus indica, for instance, can reside as much as 80 years. 

Q: Are you able to eat a prickly pear fruit uncooked?

A: Sure, you’ll be able to eat uncooked prickly pear fruit or juice the fruit to eat as a drink or for use as a pure dye. Essentially the most generally consumed selection is the O. ficus indica

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