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Prickly Pear (Opuntia)

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

You may realize by now, I really love my native plants... Prickly Pears have shown that they are able to grow all over the world, sometimes too well in the case of Australia where they are known as "noxious". But not too long ago, they were only found in the United States and Mexico.

It's no surprise why Prickly Pears have gained such worldwide notoriety. They have beautiful cactus flowers, produce wildly versatile fruit, and they have many medicinal uses as well.

Not to mention the prickly pear attract a parasitic insect used to make dyes for thousands of years, the cochineal.

In Mexico today the Opuntia is very popular plant in the culinary world. It is used to make drinks, soups, salads, candy, jellies and jams, spirits; even breads, cactus fries, main courses, and desserts!

In folk medicine, the pulp and juice of the cactus stem has been used by Native Americans to treat open wounds, to aid in blood coagulation. A recent scientific study has found that Opuntia can potentially effectively treat diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even some cancers!

Another really awesome use for these plants are to establish natural barriers, for people and animals alike! This saves from using artificial fencing, and they are so much nicer to behold.

People are even using the juice to create bioplastics (renewable and compostable plastics)!

The uses for Prickly Pear are truly endless!

Of course it must be kept in mind that conditions have to be right to grow Prickly Pears. They will survive under snowfall, but they typically prefer to live in dry, desert-like conditions. They may not go up to extreme altitudes, but on Aquarian Acres at 9000', some truly great specimens are there to be found! These cacti are very adaptable and that is why countless varieties exist worldwide. There may be one just for you!

That can be said about many other "non-cultivatable" areas. Prickly Pears seem to want to live where nothing else does! The fact that it is so incredibly versatile as well, I think it is a very important plant for the High Altitude Homestead.

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