Evergreen cacti originating from Mexico, widespread in most of the globe, especially in Astralia and the Mediterranean basin, the Opuntia have erect or slightly prostrate stems, divided into large, oval, flattened segments, with a diameter of 30-70 cm, fleshy , of a bright green color, generally called shovels; they have few sharp spines, gathered in groups of 2-3, 4-5 cm long; adult plants can reach 4-5 m in height.
From late spring to summer the plant produces numerous cup-shaped flowers, yellow or orange, arranged on the edges of the blades; the flowers are followed by fruits, oval, 10-15 cm long, fleshy, thorny, green, becoming purple red when ripe. The whole plant is edible, the blades are generally cooked, while the fruits are eaten raw, after having deprived them of the thick spiny rind.
Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a shrub that can reach up to 3.5 meters in height and width. It has a very particular and recognizable shape: the stems are in fact flat and broad and are commonly called shovels, even if their true scientific name is cladodes.
Their surface is mostly smooth, of a glaucous green color, but dotted with bearings (the areolas) from where some waxed spines start. Next to it there are other smaller ones, at most a few millimeters long, which have the purpose of retaining environmental humidity. Special care must be taken because they come off very easily, sticking deep into the skin. They are also a means of defense.
The opuntie constitute one of the most consistent groups in the field of Cactaceae: up to 300 species have been classified. They come mostly from areas characterized by strong aridity. This does not mean however that they cannot be resistant to low temperatures. In the American continent (where they originate) in the spontaneous state can even be found in the mountainous areas, in particular in the Andes they have adapted to survival even above 5,000 meters of altitude. We also keep in mind that even in the desert environment the cold resistance is a very important feature. In fact, there are environments in which the temperature range between night and day is of considerable importance.
Cultivate the prickly pear cactus
Cultivating prickly pear is not at all difficult and can be done by everyone.
IL FICO D'INDIA IN BRIEF
Height at maturity
Up to 5 m
|Width at maturity||Up to 3 m|
|Rusticitа||Medium (generally up to -6 ° C)|
|Soil||Any, but well drained|
|In pot||1/3 garden soil, 1/3 sand, 1/3 compost|
|It needs water||low|
THE FICO D'INDIA CALENDAR
|Propagation by cuttings||From spring to summer, in days without rain|
|Flowering in the Center-North||June July|
|Flowering in the South||From spring to autumn|
|Collection in the Center-North||From July to September|
|Collected in the South||From late spring to the end of autumn|
It adapts without problems to any soil, provided it is well drained and sandy; does not like excessively rich and moist soils.
In the middle of the earth, prickly pear adapts well to many different conditions. We only need to avoid soils that are too clayey and asphyxiated. Water stagnation could in fact cause root rots.
Apart from this it will adapt very well to any other condition, even if the area is very poor and dry
The ideal substrate for the containers must instead be rather drained. The soil for sale specific for succulents are suitable. But we can create the compost ourselves by mixing 1/3 of garden soil, 1/3 of river sand and 1/3 of compost. If it is still heavy you can possibly add a few handfuls of perlite or agricultural vermiculite. On the bottom it is extremely important to create a thick draining layer with gravel or other suitable material.
Multiplication and propagation
It generally occurs by cuttings, it is sufficient to put an entire segment of trunk in the ground, after having dried it for 12-15 hours, these plants root very easily.
The fastest method to propagate the prickly pear is undoubtedly the cutting. Proceed in spring or summer by taking a shovel of at least two years. The cut will be left to dry for at least a week (dusting it with a proto duct against rottenness and cryptogams. We can then place it in a pot buried by ѕ, with substrate as described above. We keep everything dry, with an average temperature of about 13 ° The rooting will take about three weeks.
Pests and diseases
Opuntia is very prone to attacks from the cochineal, in fact it has long been used to produce the food coloring extracted from scale insects.
If the infestation is mild, you can intervene by removing the parasites using alcohol and a cotton swab. Otherwise specific products can be used (generally white oil activated by a systemic insecticide).
History of prickly pear
The prickly pear is native to Mexico, but its cultivation immediately became very popular in the Mediterranean basin due to the vitamin content present in its fruits.
His name refers to the famous error of Christopher Columbus who, arriving on the New Continent, believed he had instead arrived in Asia.
He immediately understood that the plant (in particular the shovels) could be of great interest as food during the long oceanic crossings. The high content of vitamin C and its shelf life could in fact save many sailors from the onset of scurvy.
In this way some parts arrived in Europe and quickly the plant spread through all the Mediterranean ports.
The cultivation of the opuntiae was, and still is today, linked to its very frequent parasite: the cochineal.
In some areas (for example in the Canary Islands) they are cultivated precisely for the purpose of colonizing these insects, which are then useful to produce an access red-colored pigment, used in many foods (for example in alchermes), in cosmetics, in the textile industry.
Prickly pear cactus in winter
Potted plants, almost all over the North, need to be withdrawn. Generally it is good to proceed when the minimum temperatures are around 10 ° C. The room suitable for wintering must be bright, but not excessively hot. The ideal temperature ranges from 10 to maximum 15 ° C. Internal staircases, poorly used and heated rooms or a well exposed cold greenhouse are therefore ideal.
When the warm weather returns, the plants will have to be placed outside again, exposing them gradually to intense heat and light.
Repotting of prickly pear
Plants should be repotted rather frequently, even every year. Growth, especially of the root system, is in fact very fast and a container that is too small could be the cause of the onset of rot.
We proceed whenever we realize that the plant is slowing down in its growth.
The best time is spring. We also take the opportunity to check the state of the roots, possibly eliminating damaged or exhausted parts.
Fruit collection and preservation
The fruits can be harvested from when they take on a nice full color. Preservation takes place in the vegetable compartment, in the refrigerator. However, it is good to consume them within four days.
Prickly Pear - Opuntia: Variety of prickly pear
Here are the most common species and some suggested for those who live in areas with cold winters.
Types of opuntia
Species and varieties
Flowers and fruits
It grows up to 3.5 meters in height and width.
The blades are oval, about 40 cm long
The flowers are large, yellow or orange, like the fruits
-6 ° C
|Opuntia ficus-indica var. rubra|
Similar to the previous one
Yellow flowers and red fruits
-6 ° C
Opuntie more rustic
|Opuntia engelmanii var lindheimeri|
Up to 1 meter in height
Orange flowers and red fruits
-15 ° C
Medium in size with round blades
Yellow flowers in late spring, yellowish fruits
-25 ° C