Monday, August 22, 2011


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).


Birdman said...

We learn something new each day.

Joyful said...

The prickly cactus looks so painful. But recently I have seen this somewhere, probably on line, where someone made jam out of it. Inside I see it looks very luscious and I'm assuming the cattle et al can take a bite out of it without hurting themselves ;-)

Deb from WhatsInMyAttic said...

Well, I learn something new every day! I can only imagine it was a very hungry person who figured out how to eat from this plant. It was probably the fellow who first decided he could cook a lobster and use a hammer to get the meat out! LOL

clairz said...

Deb, I often wonder about that lobster guy and it's good to know that you do, too. When you think about it, eating a lobster is like eating a great big bug, only it's red. Yum. We're headed to Boston not too long from now and I think I'll get me a nice big red bug for suppah! Steamed!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I thought of Javelinas right away! When we stayed in Tucson and toured the NPs there, we learned that the javelinas love those priclky pears. Take care-- don't let any more of those thorns jump at you (steer clear of the javelinas too!)

Quiet Paths said...

My mother's friend used to make prickly pear jelly. I've seen desert Iguanas eat stuff like that but not in NM!