|Who snacked on this piece of unfriendly cactus?|
While Beez and I were out riding our bikes across the big Las Cruces flood control dam, I noticed this prickly pear (Opuntia) with a great big bite taken out of it. Now, if you've ever dealt with this plant, as I have in my garden, you will know that it is full of tiny, threadlike prickly awful things right where those cute little polka dots are on the pads.
I'm not talking about the big obvious thorns, but the all-but invisible "hair-like prickles called glochids," that get stuck in your fingers and other places. I know this all too well from carrying a heavy pot with a prickly pear planted in it. The pot shifted unexpectedly and I lived with glochids stuck in my mid-section for a while until I figured out how to remove them.
Knowing these things about prickly pears, I was surprised to find that someone out there in the wild used them to snack on. However, I just googled around for a bit and found that livestock, javelinas, and coyotes will take a bite of the juicy pads. As a matter of fact, the young pads (nopales) can be peeled and eaten by people, and the fruits (tunas) can be used to make jelly. A friend of mine just made a batch of cactus fruit jelly and I admire her for it.
As for me, I have a glochid stuck in my thumb again. A year ago I wouldn't have even known its name.
*****For more information:
Prickly Pear Cactus, DesertUSA
Opuntia; article from Wikipedia: Includes information about prickly pears as food, medication, and as a source of cochineal for dye (made from a scale insect that makes the plant its home).