Prickly Pear Cactus

common prickly pear in bloom in Reiman Gardens tropical plant conservatory

This winter the Conservatory is featuring dozens of cacti and other succulents. One group of cacti prominently featured will be the prickly pear cactus in the genus Opuntia.

Prickly pear grow in very well-drained, dry rocky flat or slopes but are highly adaptable. Some types can even be grown in Iowa, including common prickly pear (Opuntia macrorhiza), brittle prickly pear (O. fragilis), and devil’s tongue (O. humifusa). These are winter hardy throughout the state and thrive in well-drained soil and full sun.

Many prickly pear flower in early spring with beautiful, bright flowers in yellows, oranges, or pinks with flowers arising from the edges of the pads. Those flowers give way to red fruit that is roughly pear shaped. Both the fruit and pads are edible. The fruit is called cactus fruit, cactus fig, Indian fig, and even “tuna.” Pads are also edible and referred to as nopalito when consumed as a vegetable.

— Aaron Steil, Manager of Public Programs