Cricket Hill Garden
Opuntia, Hardy Prickly Pear Cactus
Variety description: This hardy cactus is a great addition to any garden with its dual use as both an interesting ornamental and nutritious and medicinal edible. In June and July, this cactus produces bright yellow 3" flowers. These ephemeral blossoms last only a day, but the nectar is feasted upon by many different kinds of pollinators, including beetles, bees and butterflies. In the late fall, the pads dehydrate and nestle against the earth for winter survival. These desiccated and seemingly dead pads revive in the spring. A vigorous grower, one plant will spread to cover a 3' area in a few years.
Edible red fruit ripens in the fall. Fruit is used in jams and preserves with a flavor resembling strawberry and watermelon. The new growth pads (nopales) are also edible. This was an important medicinal plant for Native Americans, who made poultices for wounds and snake bites out of peeled pads and drank the juice extracted from the pads for lung aliments.
Be careful when handling this species, the pads are covered with clusters of barbed bristles (glochids) which are quite irritating if stuck in the skin.
Site requirements: Full sun location with sandy, well drained soil. Plant this cactus in the sunniest, driest part of your garden.
Size at maturity: Low and spreading habit, plants remain 6" tall and reach about 3-4' wide at maturity.
Pests and diseases: None.
Hardiness: Native to wide swath of the United States, from Montana to Massachusetts and south to Florida. Thrives in USDA zones 4-9.
Plant size: Well rooted plant, in 5" pot.
Shipping restrictions: None.