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Opuntia

Opuntia

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Opuntia, also known as nopal
Nopal
Nopales are a vegetable made from the young cladode segments of prickly pear, carefully peeled to remove the spines. These fleshy pads are flat and about hand-sized. They can be purple or green...

es or paddle cactus (see below), is a genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 in the cactus family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

, Cactaceae.

Currently, only prickly pears are included in this genus of about 200 species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 distributed throughout most of the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. Chollas are now separated into the genus Cylindropuntia
Cylindropuntia
Cylindropuntia is a genus of cacti , containing the chollas. They were formerly treated as a subgenus of Opuntia but have now been separated based on their cylindrical stems and the presence of papery epidermal sheaths on the spines...

, which some still consider a subgenus
Subgenus
In biology, a subgenus is a taxonomic rank directly below genus.In zoology, a subgeneric name can be used independently or included in a species name, in parentheses, placed between the generic name and the specific epithet: e.g. the Tiger Cowry of the Indo-Pacific, Cypraea tigris Linnaeus, which...

 of Opuntia. Austrocylindropuntia
Austrocylindropuntia
Austrocylindropuntia is a genus of cacti . There are 11 recognized species, which were once included in the genus Opuntia. Some are native to South America.- External links :*...

, Corynopuntia and Micropuntia
Micropuntia
Micropuntia is a genus of highly specialized, tuberous Opuntioid Cacti in North America.-Distribution and habitat:Micropuntia is restricted to the Great Basin region of the Western United States, specifically in western Utah, northern Nevada, and far eastern California.-Habitat:Micropuntia cactus...

are also often included in the present genus, but like Cylindropuntia they seem rather well distinct. Brasiliopuntia
Brasiliopuntia
Brasiliopuntia is a genus in the cactus family Cactaceae.It is found in central Brazil, north Argentina, east Bolivia, and east Peru.- Species list :* Brasiliopuntia brasiliensis A...

and Miqueliopuntia are closer relatives of Opuntia.

The most commonly culinary species is the Indian Fig Opuntia
Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico...

 (O. ficus-indica). Most culinary uses of the term "prickly pear" refer to this species. Prickly pears are also known as "tuna", "nopal
Nopal
Nopales are a vegetable made from the young cladode segments of prickly pear, carefully peeled to remove the spines. These fleshy pads are flat and about hand-sized. They can be purple or green...

" or nopales, from the Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

 word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle
Paddle
A paddle is a tool used for pushing against liquids, either as a form of propulsion in a boat or as an implement for mixing.-Materials and designs:...

 cactus. This and similar species are native to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

.

The genus is named for the Ancient Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 city of Opus
Opus, Greece
Opus , in Ancient Greece, the chief city of Opuntian or Eastern Locris. It was located on the coast of mainland Greece opposite Euboea, perhaps at modern Atalandi...

.

Description



Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) that are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochid
Glochid
Glochids are hair-like spines or short prickles, generally barbed, found on the areoles of cacti in the sub-family Opuntioideae. Cactus glochids easily detach from the plant and lodge in the skin, causing irritation upon contact...

s, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures.

Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Western hemisphere
Western Hemisphere
The Western Hemisphere or western hemisphere is mainly used as a geographical term for the half of the Earth that lies west of the Prime Meridian and east of the Antimeridian , the other half being called the Eastern Hemisphere.In this sense, the western hemisphere consists of the western portions...

; however, they have been introduced to other parts of the globe. Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, especially in the central and western regions. They are also found in the Western United States
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

, in arid regions in the Northwest, throughout the mid and lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

 such as in Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, where species such as Opuntia phaeacantha
Opuntia phaeacantha
Opuntia phaeacantha is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common names tulip prickly pear and desert prickly pear.It is found across the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.-Description:...

, Opuntia polyacantha
Opuntia polyacantha
Opuntia polyacantha is a common species of cactus known by the common names plains pricklypear, hairspine cactus, panhandle pricklypear, and starvation pricklypear. It is native to North America, where it is widespread in western Canada, the central and western United States, and northern...

and others become dominant, and especially in the desert Southwest. Prickly pears are also the only types of cactus found to grow natively far east of the Great Plains
Great Plains
The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, which lies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. This area covers parts of the U.S...

 states; O. humifusa is widespread throughout southern New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 and Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

, where it can be found in Northport
Northport Branch
The Northport Branch was a spur off the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, running from between Greenlawn and Northport stations to directly within Northport Village....

, as well as throughout the northern Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 states and southern Ontario
Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. O. humifusa is also a prominent feature of the flora at Illinois Beach State Park
Illinois Beach State Park
Illinois Beach State Park is part of the Illinois state park system and is located along Lake Michigan in northeast Illinois in unincorporated Zion, Illinois and the Village of Winthrop Harbor. The park is broken into two units that encompass an area of and contains over six miles of Lake Michigan...

, in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois
Winthrop Harbor, Illinois
Winthrop Harbor is a village in Lake County, Illinois, United States. The population was 6,670 at the 2000 census, and it is the northernmost city in Illinois. Winthrop Harbor's main claim to fame is North Point Marina. With moorage over 1,500 boats, it is the largest marina on the Great Lakes...

, north of Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, and of Indiana Dunes State Park
Indiana Dunes State Park
Indiana DunesDesignationState Park; National Natural LandmarkLocationPorter County, Indiana, USAAddress1600 N 25 EChesterton, IN 46304Nearest CityPorter, IndianaCoordinatesAreaDate of Establishment1925...

 southeast of Chicago.

In the Galapagos Islands
Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a...

, there are six different species: O. echios, O. galapageia, O. helleri, O. insularis, O. saxicola, O. megasperma. These species are divided into 14 different varieties; most of these are confined to one or a few islands. For this reason, they have been described as "an excellent example of adaptive radiation
Adaptive radiation
In evolutionary biology, adaptive radiation is the evolution of ecological and phenotypic diversity within a rapidly multiplying lineage. Starting with a recent single ancestor, this process results in the speciation and phenotypic adaptation of an array of species exhibiting different...

". On the whole, on islands where there are tall, trunked varieties there are also giant tortoises, and islands lacking tortoises have low or prostrate forms of Opuntia.

The first introduction of prickly-pear into Australia can be definitely ascribed to Governor Philip and the earliest colonists in the year 1788. Brought from Brazil to Sydney, they remained in Sydney for 50 years, until they were brought to New South Wales to a farmer's garden in 1839. The farmer's wife gave cuttings to neighbours and friends, who planted it not only in their gardens but also as hedgerows. So began the Australian invasion that caused major ecological damage in the eastern states. They are also found in the Mediterranean region of Northern Africa, especially in the most northern nation of Africa, Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

, where they grow all over the countryside, and southern Europe
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

, especially on the island nation of Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, where they grow all over the islands, and can be found in enormous numbers in parts of South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, where it was introduced from South America.

Opuntia species are the most cold-tolerant of the lowland cacti, extending into western and southern Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

; one subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

, Opuntia fragilis var. fragilis
Opuntia fragilis
Opuntia fragilis, known by the common names brittle prickly pear and little prickly pear, is a prickly pear cactus native to much of North America. It occurs in several Canadian provinces. It is known from farther north than any other cactus, occurring at as close as 8°south of the Arctic Circle, ...

, has been found growing along the Beatton River
Beatton River
The Beatton River is a tributary of the Peace River, flowing generally east, then south through north-eastern British Columbia, Canada. The river rises at Pink Mountain, about 10 km west of the Alaska Highway hamlet of the same name, and flows 240 km generally east, then south, draining into the...

 in central British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

, southwest of Cecil Lake at 56° 17’ N latitude and 120° 39’ W longitude.
Prickly pears also produce a fruit that is commonly eaten in Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, known as tuna; it also is used to make aguas frescas
Aguas frescas
Ades, punches, fruit drinks and other non-alcoholic flavored coolers, known as aguas frescas in some parts of Latin America, are a combination of either fruits, cereals, or seeds with sugar and water, blended to make a beverage. Aguas frescas are popular in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean,...

. The fruit can be red, wine-red, green or yellow-orange.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 was the first to note that these cacti have thigmotactic anthers: when the anthers are touched, they curl over, depositing their pollen
Pollen
Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes . Pollen grains have a hard coat that protects the sperm cells during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the...

. This movement can be seen by gently poking the anthers of an open Opuntia flower
Flower
A flower, sometimes known as a bloom or blossom, is the reproductive structure found in flowering plants . The biological function of a flower is to effect reproduction, usually by providing a mechanism for the union of sperm with eggs...

. The same trait has evolved convergently
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

 in other cacti (e.g. Lophophora
Lophophora
Lophophora is a genus of spineless, button-like cacti native to the southwestern United States through Northeast Mexico and South to Querétaro in central Mexico....

).


Chollas



Chollas, now recognized to belong into the rather distinct genus Cylindropuntia, are distinguished by having cylindrical, rather than flattened, stem segments with the large barbed spines. The stem joints of several species, notably the jumping cholla
Jumping Cholla
Cylindropuntia fulgida, the Jumping cholla, also known as the hanging chain cholla, is a cactus that is native to the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico.-Distribution:...

 (Cylindropuntia fulgida), are very brittle on young stems, readily breaking off when the barbed spines stick to clothing or animal bark as a method of vegetative reproduction
Vegetative reproduction
Vegetative reproduction is a form of asexual reproduction in plants. It is a process by which new individuals arise without production of seeds or spores...

. The barbed spines can remain embedded in the skin, causing significant discomfort and sometimes injury.

Growth (image gallery)

|-
|
|
|
|
|-
|Bud appears
|Bud grows
|Bud grows more
|Bud grows yet more
|}>
|-
|
|
|
|-
|Pad continues growth
|Edible pad (tender)
|Mature pad
|}>

Main producer of Opuntia


Valtierrilla
Valtierrilla
- Overview :Valtierrilla's population is an important agro-industrial centre for from a few years companies have been created within the industrial corridor. In the framework of development planning at the state level, Valtierrilla constitutes an important reservoir of industrial land, which will...

 in Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 is the largest producer of Opuntia products.

The Exponopal expo, featuring a wide range of products, is held annually in February.

Uses



As food



The fruit
Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

 of prickly pears, commonly called cactus fruit, cactus fig, Indian fig or tuna in Spanish, is edible, although it has to be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption. If the outer layer is not properly removed, glochid
Glochid
Glochids are hair-like spines or short prickles, generally barbed, found on the areoles of cacti in the sub-family Opuntioideae. Cactus glochids easily detach from the plant and lodge in the skin, causing irritation upon contact...

s can be ingested, causing discomfort of the throat, lips, and tongue, as the small spines are easily lodged in the skin. Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

s, like the Tequesta
Tequesta
The Tequesta Native American tribe, at the time of first European contact, occupied an area along the southeastern Atlantic coast of Florida...

, would roll the fruit around in a suitable medium (e.g. grit) to "sand
Sandpaper
Sandpaper, also known as glasspaper, is a heavy paper with abrasive material attached to its surface.Sandpaper is part of the "coated abrasives" family of abrasive products. It is used to remove small amounts of material from surfaces, either to make them smoother , to remove a layer of material...

" off the glochids. Alternatively, rotating the fruit in the flame of a campfire or torch has been used to remove the glochids. Today, parthenocarpic
Parthenocarpy
In botany and horticulture, parthenocarpy is the natural or artificially induced production of fruit without fertilization of ovules. The fruit is therefore seedless. Stenospermocarpy may also produce apparently seedless fruit, but the seeds are actually aborted while still small...

 (seedless) cultivar
Cultivar
A cultivar'Cultivar has two meanings as explained under Formal definition. When used in reference to a taxon, the word does not apply to an individual plant but to all those plants sharing the unique characteristics that define the cultivar. is a plant or group of plants selected for desirable...

s are also available.

Cactus figs are often used to make candies
Candy
Candy, specifically sugar candy, is a confection made from a concentrated solution of sugar in water, to which flavorings and colorants are added...

, jelly
Fruit preserves
Fruit preserves are preparations of fruits and sugar, often canned or sealed for long-term storage. The preparation of fruit preserves today often involves adding commercial or natural pectin as a gelling agent, although sugar or honey may be used, as well. Prior to World War II, fruit preserve...

, or drinks such as vodka
Vodka
Vodka , is a distilled beverage. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol with traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made by the distillation of fermented substances such as grains, potatoes, or sometimes fruits....

 or lemonade.

Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico...

has been introduced to Europe, and flourishes in areas with a suitable climate, such as the south of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, southern Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, where they are referred to as fichi d'India or ficurinnia (Indian figs), along the Struma River
Struma River
The Struma or Strymónas is a river in Bulgaria and Greece. Its ancient name was Strymōn . Its catchment area is 10,800 km²...

 in Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

, in southern Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 and Madeira
Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...

, where they are called tabaibo, figo tuno or "Indian fig
Indian fig
Indian fig may refer to:*Ficus benghalensis, a species of banyan tree also known as East Indian fig*Opuntia ficus-indica, a species of cactus also known as indian fig opuntia*Opuntia humifusa, a species of cactus also known as eastern prickly pear...

s", and eastern and southern Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, as well as Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 where they are known as chumbo or higo chumbo ("chumbo fig"). In Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, it grows in such places as Corfu
Corfu
Corfu is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the edge of the northwestern frontier of Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality. The...

 and its figs are known as frangosyka (French figs) or pavlosyka (Paul's figs). The figs are also grown in Cyprus
Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

, where they are known as papoutsosyka or babutsa (cactus figs).
The prickly pear also grows widely on the islands of Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, where it is enjoyed by the Maltese as a typical summer fruit (known as bajtar tax-xewk, literally 'spiny figs'), as well as being used to make the popular liqueur known as bajtra
Bajtra
Bajtra is a liqueur from Malta which is made from the prickly pear that originated in the Americas and was introduced to the Maltese islands. Its taste is sweet....

. In Egypt, it is known as teen shouky. The prickly pear is so commonly found in the Maltese islands that it is often used as a dividing wall between many of Malta's characteristic terraced fields in place of the usual rubble walls. The prickly pear was introduced to Eritrea
Eritrea
Eritrea , officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea derives it's name from the Greek word Erethria, meaning 'red land'. The capital is Asmara. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast...

 during the period of Italian colonisation between 1890 and 1940. It is locally known there as beles and is abundant during the months of late summer and early autumn (late July through September). The beles from the holy monastery of Debre Bizen
Debre Bizen
Debre Bizen is the best-known monastery of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church. Located at the top of Debre Bizen the mountain near the town of Nefasit in Eritrea. Its library contains many important Ge'ez manuscripts.-History:...

 is said to be particularly sweet and juicy. In Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

, it is a popular summer fruit and called by the locals Hindi, which literally means Indian.

In Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

, Jordan
Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

 and other parts of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, prickly pears of the yellow and orange varieties are grown by the side of farms, beside railway tracks and other otherwise noncultivable land. It is sold in summer by street vendors, and is considered a nice refreshing fruit for that season.

Tungi is the local St. Helenian
Saint Helena
Saint Helena , named after St Helena of Constantinople, is an island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha which also includes Ascension Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha...

 name for cactus pears. The plants (Indian fig opuntia) were originally brought to the island by the colonial ivory traders from East Africa in the 1850s. Tungi cactus now grows wild and organically in the dry coastal regions of the island. Three principal cultivars of tungi grow on the island: the 'English' with yellow fruit; the 'Madeira' with large red fruit; and the small, firm 'spiny red'.

The young stem
Plant stem
A stem is one of two main structural axes of a vascular plant. The stem is normally divided into nodes and internodes, the nodes hold buds which grow into one or more leaves, inflorescence , conifer cones, roots, other stems etc. The internodes distance one node from another...

 segments, usually called nopal
Nopal
Nopales are a vegetable made from the young cladode segments of prickly pear, carefully peeled to remove the spines. These fleshy pads are flat and about hand-sized. They can be purple or green...

es
, are also edible in most species of Opuntia. They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine
Mexican cuisine
Mexican cuisine, a style of food that originates in Mexico, is known for its varied flavors, colourful decoration and variety of spices and ingredients, most of which are native to the country. The cuisine of Mexico has evolved through thousands of years of blending indigenous cultures, with later...

 in dishes such as huevos con nopales (egg
Egg (food)
Eggs are laid by females of many different species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and have probably been eaten by mankind for millennia. Bird and reptile eggs consist of a protective eggshell, albumen , and vitellus , contained within various thin membranes...

s with nopal), or taco
Taco
A taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety...

s de nopales
. Nopales are also an important ingredient in New Mexican cuisine
New Mexican cuisine
New Mexican cuisine is a regional cuisine found in New Mexico, reflecting the regional climate and long history as part of the Native American, Mexican, Spanish and United States cultures. This form of southwest cuisine is most popular in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California...

.

As medicine



Most species of Opuntia contain a range of alkaloid
Alkaloid
Alkaloids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that contain mostly basic nitrogen atoms. This group also includes some related compounds with neutral and even weakly acidic properties. Also some synthetic compounds of similar structure are attributed to alkaloids...

s in ample quantities, notably substituted phenethylamine
Phenethylamine
Phenylethylamine or phenethylamine is a natural monoamine alkaloid, trace amine, and also the name of a class of chemicals with many members well known for psychoactive drug and stimulant effects. Studies suggest that phenylethylamine functions as a neuromodulator or neurotransmitter in the...

s. While the mere presence of such compounds has been confirmed in many species without further details, they have been studied more thoroughly in others. Identified compounds of medical significance include 3-methoxytyramine
3-Methoxytyramine
3-Methoxytyramine , also known as 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenethylamine, is a metabolite of the neurotransmitter dopamine formed by the introduction of a methyl group to dopamine by the enzyme catechol-O-methyl transferase...

, candicine, hordenine
Hordenine
Hordenine is a phenethylamine alkaloid with antibacterial and antibiotic properties. It stimulates the release of norepinephrine in mammals, working as a stimulant...

, N-methyltyramine
N-Methyltyramine
N-Methyltyramine is a natural phenethylamine alkaloid found in a variety of plants. Biosynthetically, it is produced by the methylation of tyramine via the action of the enzyme tyramine N-methyltransferase....

, and tyramine
Tyramine
Tyramine is a naturally occurring monoamine compound and trace amine derived from the amino acid tyrosine. Tyramine acts as a catecholamine releasing agent...

. The Sicilian prickly pear contains the betalain
Betalain
Betalains are a class of red and yellow indole-derived pigments found in plants of the Caryophyllales, where they replace anthocyanin pigments. Betalains also occur in some higher order fungi. They are most often noticeable in the petals of flowers, but may color the fruits, leaves, stems, and...

 antioxidants betanin
Betanin
Betanin, or Beetroot Red, is a red glycosidic food dye obtained from beets; its aglycone, obtained by hydrolyzing away the glucose molecule, is betanidin. As a food additive, its E number is E162. Betanin degrades when subjected to light, heat, and oxygen; therefore, it is used in frozen products,...

 and indicaxanthin
Indicaxanthin
Indicaxanthin is a type of betaxanthin, a plant pigment present in beets, prickly pear cactus, and the red dragonfruit Hylocereus costaricensis...

, with highest levels in their fruits.

The stem of certain Opuntia have been investigated in the treatment of type II diabetes. Although some researchers have shown a blood glucose-lowering effect of O. streptacantha, another study of three other species of Opuntia (O. lasiacantha, O. velutina, and O. macrocentra) showed no such effect. Yet another study, on O. megacantha, raised concern about toxic effects on the kidney.

It may be that certain species are effective and useful in diabetes while others are not, but this needs to be clarified with further research before recommending its use. Furthermore, when buying nopal in the market, it is impossible to know which species one is buying, and therefore whether or not it is useful in treating diabetes.

Indian Fig Opuntia
Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico...

 (and probably others) might have a reducing effect on alcohol hangover
Hangover
A hangover describes the sum of unpleasant physiological effects following heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. The most commonly reported characteristics of a hangover include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, lethargy, dysphoria, diarrhea and thirst, typically after the...

 by inhibiting the production of inflammatory
Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process...

 mediators. Studies have yielded differing results, with some studies witnessing significant reductions in nausea
Nausea
Nausea , is a sensation of unease and discomfort in the upper stomach with an involuntary urge to vomit. It often, but not always, precedes vomiting...

, dry mouth, and loss of appetite
Anorexia (symptom)
Anorexia is the decreased sensation of appetite...

 as well as less risk of a severe hangover, while others witnessing no compelling evidence for effects on alcohol hangover.

The gel-like sap
Sap
Sap may refer to:* Plant sap, the fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant* Sap , a village in the Dunajská Streda District of Slovakia...

 of prickly pears can be used as hair conditioner
Hair conditioner
Hair conditioner is a hair care product that alters the texture and appearance of hair.-History:For centuries, natural oils have been used to condition human hair. These natural products are still used today, including essential oils such as tea tree oil and carrier oils such as jojoba oil...

.

In Mexico and the Southwest, its pulp and juice have been used to treat numerous maladies, such as wounds and inflammations of the digestive and urinary tracts.

As an intoxicant


Mexican natives have used the food for thousands of years, to make colonche, an alcoholic drink.
At least two commercially important distilled spirits are produced from Opuntia fruit. In Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, the pink herbal bajtra
Bajtra
Bajtra is a liqueur from Malta which is made from the prickly pear that originated in the Americas and was introduced to the Maltese islands. Its taste is sweet....

liqueur
Liqueur
A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage that has been flavored with fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, or cream and bottled with added sugar. Liqueurs are typically quite sweet; they are usually not aged for long but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry.The...

 is made from Opuntia. A St. Helenian
Saint Helena
Saint Helena , named after St Helena of Constantinople, is an island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha which also includes Ascension Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha...

 distillery produces the clear, more potent Tungi Spirit
Tungi Spirit
Tungi Spirit is the name given to a distilled product made in Saint Helena from the fruit of the prickly or cactus pear .- Usage :...

 from Indian fig opuntia cv. 'English' and 'Madeira'.

Opuntia is also added sometimes to the entheogen
Entheogen
An entheogen , in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context. Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts...

ic drink Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca is any of various psychoactive infusions or decoctions prepared from the Banisteriopsis spp. vine, usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine-containing species of shrubs from the Psychotria genus...

. Psychoactive compounds and derivates thereof have been confirmed in some species. These include 3,4-DMPEA
DMPEA
3,4-Dimethoxyphenethylamine is a chemical compound of the phenethylamine class. It is an analogue of dopamine where the 3- and 4-position hydroxy groups have been replaced with methoxy groups. It is also closely related to mescaline which is 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine.DMPEA was first...

, 4-hydroxy-3,5-DMPEA, and mescaline
Mescaline
Mescaline or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class used mainly as an entheogen....

.

In dye production




Dactylopius coccus is a scale insect
Scale insect
The scale insects are small insects of the order Hemiptera, generally classified as the superfamily Coccoidea. There are about 8,000 species of scale insects.-Ecology:...

, from which the cochineal
Cochineal
The cochineal is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the crimson-colour dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, this insect lives on cacti from the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and...

 dye is derived. D. coccus itself is native to tropical and subtropical South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 and Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. This type of insect, a primarily sessile
Sessility (zoology)
In zoology, sessility is a characteristic of animals which are not able to move about. They are usually permanently attached to a solid substrate of some kind, such as a part of a plant or dead tree trunk, a rock, or the hull of a ship in the case of barnacles. Corals lay down their own...

 parasite, lives on cacti
Cactus
A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae. Their distinctive appearance is a result of adaptations to conserve water in dry and/or hot environments. In most species, the stem has evolved to become photosynthetic and succulent, while the leaves have evolved into spines...

 from the genus Opuntia, feeding on moisture and nutrients in the cactus sap. The insect produces carminic acid
Carminic acid
Carminic acid is a red glucosidal hydroxyanthrapurin that occurs naturally in some scale insects, such as the cochineal and the Polish cochineal. The insects produce the acid as a deterrent to predators. Carminic acid is the colouring agent in carmine. Synonyms are C.I. 75470 and C.I...

, which deters predation by other insects. The carminic acid can be extracted from the insect's body and eggs to make the red dye.

Cochineal is primarily used as a red
Red
Red is any of a number of similar colors evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye, in the wavelength range of roughly 630–740 nm. Longer wavelengths than this are called infrared , and cannot be seen by the naked eye...

 food colouring and for cosmetics
Cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

. The cochineal dye was used by the Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 and Maya
Maya civilization
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...

 peoples of Central and North America. Produced almost exclusively in Oaxaca
Oaxaca, Oaxaca
The city and municipality of Oaxaca de Juárez, or simply Oaxaca, is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of the same name . It is located in the Centro District in the Central Valleys region of the state, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre at the base of the Cerro del Fortín...

, Mexico by indigenous producers, cochineal became Mexico's second most valued export after silver. The dyestuff was consumed throughout Europe, and was so highly valued that its price was regularly quoted on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchanges.

Now, the highest production of cochineal is by Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

, the Canary Islands
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

 and Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

. Current health concerns over artificial food additives have renewed the popularity of cochineal dyes, and the increased demand is making cultivation of the insect an attractive opportunity in other regions, such as in Mexico, where cochineal production had declined again due to the scale insect having numerous natural enemies.

Apart from cochineal, the red dye betanin
Betanin
Betanin, or Beetroot Red, is a red glycosidic food dye obtained from beets; its aglycone, obtained by hydrolyzing away the glucose molecule, is betanidin. As a food additive, its E number is E162. Betanin degrades when subjected to light, heat, and oxygen; therefore, it is used in frozen products,...

 can be extracted from some Opuntia plants themselves.

For earthen walls


Fluid ("cactus juice") extracted from Opuntia pads and stems, especially O. ficus-indica, is one of the most commonly used additives in earthen plaster
Earthen plaster
Earthen plaster is a blend of clay, fine aggregate, and fiber. Other common additives include pigments, lime, casein, prickly pear cactus juice , manure, and linseed oil. Earthen plaster is usually applied to masonry, cob, or straw bale interiors or exteriors as a wall finish...

.

The juice from the prickly pear cactus leaf pads will serve many functions. According to some sources, it helps the plaster set and increases its stickiness or adhesion
Adhesion
Adhesion is any attraction process between dissimilar molecular species that can potentially bring them in close contact. By contrast, cohesion takes place between similar molecules....

. Cactus juice also serves as a stabilizer in that it helps make earthen plasters more water resistant and more durable. It also prevents dusting.

Cactus juice can increase plaster's workability and its ability to be formed into the desired shape. Workability depends on the water content, the shape and size distribution of its aggregate
Aggregate (composite)
Aggregate is the component of a composite material that resists compressive stress and provides bulk to the composite material. For efficient filling, aggregate should be much smaller than the finished item, but have a wide variety of sizes...

 (aggregate can be rock, sand, natural fiber, etc.), the age of the plaster, and the amount of other natural binder(s) (natural binders are clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

, lime, wheatpaste
Wheatpaste
Wheatpaste is a liquid adhesive made from vegetable starch and water. It has been used since ancient times for various arts and crafts such as book binding, decoupage, collage, and papier-mâché...

, cactus juice, etc.) Altering the water content, changing the aggregate mix, the age of the plaster, or changing the binders will increase or decrease the plaster's workability. Excessive water will lead to increased bleeding (surface water) and/or segregation of aggregates (when the natural binder and aggregates start to separate), with the resulting plaster having reduced quality. The use of an aggregate with an undesirable gradation can result in a very harsh mix design with a very low workability, which cannot be readily made more workable by addition of reasonable amounts of water or binder.

Cactus juice works well because it contains pectin
Pectin
Pectin is a structural heteropolysaccharide contained in the primary cell walls of terrestrial plants. It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braconnot...

, a water soluble long-chain carbohydrate
Carbohydrate
A carbohydrate is an organic compound with the empirical formula ; that is, consists only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with a hydrogen:oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 . However, there are exceptions to this. One common example would be deoxyribose, a component of DNA, which has the empirical...

 that acts as the binding agent to increase the adhesion of an earthen plaster. Pectin is also responsible for increasing the water resistance of an earthen plaster and has been used to augment lime plaster
Lime plaster
Lime plaster is type of plaster composed of hydrated lime, sand and water. Lime plaster is similar to Lime mortar, the main difference is the based on use rather than composition. Traditional lime plaster contains also horse hair to reinforce plaster....

s in both Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 and the southwestern United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 for hundreds of years.

Cactus juice is extracted by immersing cut leaves in water for as long as two weeks.

In culture




The coat of arms of Mexico
Coat of arms of Mexico
The current coat of arms of Mexico has been an important symbol of Mexican politics and culture for centuries. The coat of arms depicts a Mexican Golden Eagle perched upon a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake. To the people of Tenochtitlan this would have strong religious connotations, but to...

 depicts a Mexican golden eagle
Eagle (heraldry)
The eagle is used in heraldry as a charge, as a supporter, and as a crest. Parts of the eagle's body such as its head, wings or leg are also used as a charge or crest....

, perched upon an Opuntia cactus
Cactus
A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae. Their distinctive appearance is a result of adaptations to conserve water in dry and/or hot environments. In most species, the stem has evolved to become photosynthetic and succulent, while the leaves have evolved into spines...

, devouring a rattlesnake
Rattlesnake
Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous snakes of the genera Crotalus and Sistrurus of the subfamily Crotalinae . There are 32 known species of rattlesnake, with between 65-70 subspecies, all native to the Americas, ranging from southern Alberta and southern British Columbia in Canada to Central...

. According to the official history of Mexico, the coat of arms is inspired by an Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 legend regarding the founding of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, then a nomadic tribe, were wandering throughout Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 in search of a divine sign that would indicate the precise spot upon which they were to build their capital. Their god Huitzilopochtli
Huitzilopochtli
In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli , was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan.- Genealogy :...

 had commanded them to find an eagle
Eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

 devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus that grew on a rock submerged in a lake. After two hundred years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy Lake Texcoco
Lake Texcoco
Lake Texcoco was a natural lake formation within the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island in the lake. The Spaniards built Mexico City over Tenochtitlan...

. It was there they founded their new capital, Tenochtitlan. The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico...

; Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

: tenochtli), full of fruits, is the symbol for the island of Tenochtitlan.

The 1975–1988 version of the coat of arms of Malta also featured an opuntia.

In Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, the cactus fig is called tzabar similar to and derived from the Arabic 'saber'. This is also the origin of the term sabra
Sabra (person)
Sabra is a term used to describe a Jew born in Israeli territory; the term is also usually inclusive of Jews born during the period of the establishment of the state of Israel. The word "sabra" is Arabic and Hebrew. Immigrants to Palestine began using it in the early 1930s, according to the The...

used to describe for Jew born in Israel. The prickly pear cactus has been used for centuries both as a food source and a natural fence that keeps in livestock and marks the boundaries of family lands. They are incredibly resilient and often grow back. The cactus is called 'saber' in Arabic, which also means 'tenacity'.

The cactus lends its name to a song by British jazz/classical group Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet are a 4-piece modern jazz group from London and Southampton. Their sound is made distinctive by the use of the Hang, a 21st Century percussion instrument used on all their tracks. The group is composed of Jack Wyllie , Duncan Bellamy , Milo Fitzpatrick , and Keir Vine...

. The song "My Rival", on the album Gaucho
Gaucho
Gaucho is a term commonly used to describe residents of the South American pampas, chacos, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Chile, and Southern Brazil...

by the American jazz-pop group Steely Dan
Steely Dan
Steely Dan is an American rock band; its core members are Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The band's popularity peaked in the late 1970s, with the release of seven albums blending elements of jazz, rock, funk, R&B, and pop...

 begins with the words, "The wind was driving in my face/The smell of prickly pear."

In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8 miles (12.9 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28 kilometres (17.4 mi) fence surrounding the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located on of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba which the United States leased for use as a coaling station following the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas...

 to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

's Iron Curtain
Iron Curtain
The concept of the Iron Curtain symbolized the ideological fighting and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1989...

 and the Bamboo Curtain
Bamboo Curtain
The Bamboo Curtain was a euphemism for the east Asian version of the Iron Curtain. As a physical boundary, it was marked by the borders around the Communist states of East Asia, in particular those of the People's Republic of China that were shared with non-Communist nations, during the Cold War...

 in East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

.

Ecology



Opuntia spreads into large clonal colonies, which contributes to its being considered a noxious weed in some places.

Prickly pears (mostly Opuntia stricta
Opuntia stricta
Opuntia stricta is a species of cactus from southern North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Common names include Erect Prickly Pear and Nopal Estricto ....

) were originally imported into Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 in the 18th century for gardens, and were later used as a natural agricultural fencing and in an attempt to establish a cochineal
Cochineal
The cochineal is a scale insect in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, from which the crimson-colour dye carmine is derived. A primarily sessile parasite native to tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, this insect lives on cacti from the genus Opuntia, feeding on plant moisture and...

 dye industry. They quickly became a widespread invasive weed, eventually converting 101000 mi2 of farming land into an impenetrable green jungle of prickly-pear, in places 20 ft (6.1 m) high. Scores of farmers were driven off their land by what they called the “green hell”; their abandoned homes were crushed under the cactus growth which advanced at a rate of 1000000 acre (4,046.9 km²; 1,562.5 sq mi) per year. In 1919, the Federal Government established the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board to coordinate efforts to eradicate them with the State Governments. Early attempts with mechanical removal and poisonous chemicals failed, so in a last resort, biological control was attempted. The moth
Moth
A moth is an insect closely related to the butterfly, both being of the order Lepidoptera. Moths form the majority of this order; there are thought to be 150,000 to 250,000 different species of moth , with thousands of species yet to be described...

 Cactoblastis cactorum
Cactoblastis cactorum
Cactoblastis cactorum, commonly known as the Cactus Moth, South American Cactus Moth, or Nopal Moth, is native to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil. It is one of five species in the genus Cactoblastis that lives in South America...

from South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, the larvae of which eat prickly pear, was introduced in 1925 and almost wiped out the cactus population. The son of the noted entomologist Frederick Parkhurst Dodd
Frederick Parkhurst Dodd
Frederick Parkhurst Dodd was an Australian entomologist. He was known as the Butterfly man of Kuranda.Born in Victoria, Dodd worked in a bank in Townsville for ten years before taking up entomology full-time. A number of species are named after him and his collection of insects was of importance...

, Alan Dodd was a lead official in combating the prickly pear. There is a memorial hall in Chinchilla
Chinchilla
Chinchillas are crepuscular rodents, slightly larger and more robust than ground squirrels, and are native to the Andes mountains in South America. Along with their relatives, viscachas, they make up the family Chinchillidae....

 Australia commemorating the moth.

The same moth, introduced accidentally further north of its native range into southern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, is causing serious damage to some native species in that area.

Other animals that eat Opuntia include the prickly pear island snail
Prickly pear island snail
The Prickly Pear Island snail also known as the Prickly Pear snail, scientific name Micrarionta opuntia, is a species of medium-sized air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Helminthoglyptidae....

 and Cyclura
Cyclura
Cyclura is a genus of lizards from the family Iguanidae. Members of this genus are known as "cyclurids" or more commonly as rock iguanas and only occur on islands in the West Indies...

rock iguanas. The fruit are relished by many aridland animals, chiefly birds, which thus help distribute the seeds. Opuntiapathogen
Pathogen
A pathogen gignomai "I give birth to") or infectious agent — colloquially, a germ — is a microbe or microorganism such as a virus, bacterium, prion, or fungus that causes disease in its animal or plant host...

s include the sac fungus Colletotrichum coccodes
Colletotrichum coccodes
Colletotrichum coccodes is a plant pathogen, which causes anthracnose on tomato and black dot disease of potato.- External links :*...

and Sammons' Opuntia virus. The ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

 Crematogaster opuntiae and the spider
Spider
Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms...

 Theridion opuntia are named for their association with prickly pear cacti.

Selected species


Opuntia hybridizes readily between species. This can make classification difficult. Also, not all species listed here may actually belong into this genus.








  • Opuntia aciculata
    Opuntia aciculata
    Opuntia aciculata, also called Chenille Prickly Pear , Old Man's Whiskers and Cowboy’s Red Whiskers , is a perennial dicot and an attractive ornamental cactus native to Texas, North America. It belongs to the genus Opuntia, consisting of various cactuses...

    – Chenille Prickly Pear , Old Man's Whiskers, Cowboy’s Red Whiskers
  • Opuntia anacantha
  • Opuntia atrispina
  • Opuntia auberi
  • Opuntia aurantiaca
    Opuntia aurantiaca
    Opuntia aurantiaca, commonly known as Tiger Pear, Jointed Cactus or Jointed Prickly-pear, is a species of cactus from South America. The species occurs naturally in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and is considered an invasive species in Africa and Australia....

  • Opuntia basilaris
    Opuntia basilaris
    Opuntia basilaris, the Beavertail Cactus, is found in southwest USA, mostly in the Mojave Desert, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Colorado Deserts, and also in the Colorado Plateau and northwest Mexico; it ranges through the Grand Canyon and Colorado River region to southern Utah, and in...

    – Beavertail cactus
  • Opuntia boldinghii
  • Opuntia chaffeyi
    Opuntia chaffeyi
    Opuntia chaffeyi is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to Mexico. Its natural habitat is hot deserts. It is threatened by habitat loss.-Source:...

  • Opuntia chlorotica
    Opuntia chlorotica
    Opuntia chlorotica is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is a species of prickly pear native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico...

    – Pancake Prickly Pear; native to southwest USA and the Sonoran
    Sonoran Desert
    The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert which straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest...

     and Mojave desert
    Mojave Desert
    The Mojave Desert occupies a significant portion of southeastern California and smaller parts of central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, in the United States...

    s.
  • Opuntia clavata
  • Opuntia cochenillifera
  • Opuntia comonduensis
  • Opuntia compressa
  • Opuntia curvospina
  • Opuntia decumana
  • Opuntia decumbensNopal de Culebra
  • Opuntia dejecta
  • Opuntia echinocarpa
    Opuntia echinocarpa
    Opuntia echinocarpa, the Silver Cholla or Golden Cholla, depending on color of the spines, is a plant of the desert chaparral community....

  • Opuntia echios
    Opuntia echios
    Opuntia echios is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to the Galápagos Islands and is commonly known as the Galápagos prickly pear, but there are five other species of prickly pears that also are endemic to the archipelago Opuntia echios is a species of plant in the Cactaceae...

    • Opuntia echios var. gigantea – Galápagos prickly pear. Galápagos Islands
      Galápagos Islands
      The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a...

      .
  • Opuntia elata
  • Opuntia elatior Mill. – syn. O. bergeriana
  • Opuntia engelmannii
    Opuntia engelmannii
    Opuntia engelmannii is a prickly pear common across the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It goes by a variety of common names, including "cow's tongue cactus", "cow tongue prickly pear", "desert prickly pear", "discus prickly pear", "Engelmann's prickly pear", and "Texas prickly...

    – Engelmann's Prickly Pear, Cow's-tongue Prickly Pear, Desert Prickly Pear, Discus Prickly Pear, Texas Prickly Pear, calico cactus
  • Opuntia erinacea
  • Opuntia exaltata
  • Opuntia excelsa
  • Opuntia ficus-barbarica
  • Opuntia ficus-indica
    Opuntia ficus-indica
    Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico...

    – Indian Fig Opuntia
  • Opuntia fragilis
    Opuntia fragilis
    Opuntia fragilis, known by the common names brittle prickly pear and little prickly pear, is a prickly pear cactus native to much of North America. It occurs in several Canadian provinces. It is known from farther north than any other cactus, occurring at as close as 8°south of the Arctic Circle, ...

    – Little Prickly Pear, brittle cactus. Found in the Great Plains and as far west as British Columbia
    British Columbia
    British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

    .
  • Opuntia galapageia
    Opuntia galapageia
    Opuntia galapageia is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to the Galapagos Islands . There are three varieties: Opuntia galapageia var. galapageia on Bartolome, Santiago and Pinta, Opuntia galapageia var. macrocarpa on Pinzon and Opuntia galapageia var. profusa on...

  • Opuntia gosseliniana
    Opuntia gosseliniana
    Opuntia gosseliniana, commonly known as the Violet Prickly Pear, is a species of cactus that is native to Pima County, Arizona in the United States and Baja California, Chihuahua, and Sonora in Mexico....

    – Violet Prickly Pear
    • Opuntia gosseliniana var. santa-rita – Santa Rita Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia helleri
    Opuntia helleri
    Opuntia helleri is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. This vulnerable species is endemic to the Galapagos Islands , where restricted to Wolf, Darwin, Marchena and Genovesa.-Source:* Tye, A. 2000. . Downloaded on 22 August 2007....

  • Opuntia hickenii
  • Opuntia humifusa – Eastern Prickly Pear (sometimes included in O. compressa)
  • Opuntia hyptiacantha
  • Opuntia inamoema K. Schum.quipá
  • Opuntia insularis
    Opuntia insularis
    Opuntia insularis is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. This endangered species is endemic to the Galapagos Islands , where restricted to Fernandina and Isabela.-Source:* Tye, A. 2000. . Downloaded on 22 August 2007....

  • Opuntia invicta
    Opuntia invicta
    Opuntia invicta is a native cactus endemic to lower elevations in Baja California, Mexico....

  • Opuntia jamaicensis
  • Opuntia laevis
  • Opuntia lasiacantha
  • Opuntia leucotricha
    Opuntia leucotricha
    Opuntia leucotricha is a tree-like cactus, growing up to 5 m tall. It occurs in the mountains of central Mexico, an endemic species. The platyclades have a thin fuzz of white hairs on their joints....

    – Arborescent Prickly Pear, Aaron's beard cactus, semaphore cactus, Duraznillo blanco, Nopal blanco
  • Opuntia lindheimeri – Cowtongue Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia littoralis
    Opuntia littoralis
    Opuntia littoralis is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common name coastal prickly pear.-Distribution:Opuntia littoralis is native to southern California and Baja California, where it grows in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats...

    – Sprawling Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia longispina
  • Opuntia macrocentra – Black-spine Prickly Pear, Purple Prickly Pear. Found in southwest USA and northern Mexico.
  • Opuntia macrorhiza – Plains Prickly Pear. Found throughout the Great Plains except for the northernmost areas (not found in North Dakota
    North Dakota
    North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

    ), and extending sporadically eastward as far as Kentucky
    Kentucky
    The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

    . Syn.
    O. leptocarpa MacKensen, O. tenuispina Engelm., O. tortispina Engelm. & Bigelow
  • Opuntia matudae – xoconostle (syn. Opuntia joconostle)
  • Opuntia maldonandensis
  • Opuntia maxima
  • Opuntia megacantha
  • Opuntia megarrhiza
    Opuntia megarrhiza
    Opuntia megarrhiza is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is endemic to Mexico. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland. It is threatened by habitat loss.-Source:...

  • Opuntia megasperma
    Opuntia megasperma
    Opuntia megasperma is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. This vulnerable species is endemic to the Galapagos Islands , where restricted to Floreana, San Cristobal and Espanola.-Source:...

  • Opuntia microdasys
    Opuntia microdasys
    Opuntia microdasys is a species of cactus native and endemic to central and northern Mexico.-Description:...

    – Bunny ears cactus, Polka-dot cactus
  • Opuntia monacantha
    Opuntia monacantha
    Opuntia monacantha, commonly known as Drooping Prickly Pear, Cochineal Prickly Pear, or Barbary Fig, is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. It is native to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and is naturalised in Australia and South Africa...

    – Common Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia oricola
    Opuntia oricola
    Opuntia oricola is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common name chaparral prickly pear. It is native to southern California and Baja California, where it grows in coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats.-Description:...

  • Opuntia ovata
  • Opuntia paraguayensis
  • Opuntia phaeacantha
    Opuntia phaeacantha
    Opuntia phaeacantha is a species of prickly pear cactus known by the common names tulip prickly pear and desert prickly pear.It is found across the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.-Description:...

    – Tulip Prickly Pear. Includes Plateau Prickly Pear, Brown-spined Prickly Pear, Mojave Prickly Pear, Kingman Prickly Pear.
  • Opuntia pinkavae – Pinkava's Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia polyacantha
    Opuntia polyacantha
    Opuntia polyacantha is a common species of cactus known by the common names plains pricklypear, hairspine cactus, panhandle pricklypear, and starvation pricklypear. It is native to North America, where it is widespread in western Canada, the central and western United States, and northern...

    – Panhandle Prickly Pear. Found in the Great Plains, Great Basin
    Great Basin
    The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions and Basin and Range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than away at the...

    , Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau
    Colorado Plateau
    The Colorado Plateau, also called the Colorado Plateau Province, is a physiographic region of the Intermontane Plateaus, roughly centered on the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. The province covers an area of 337,000 km2 within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico,...

    , and the Rocky Mountains
    Rocky Mountains
    The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

    . Syn.
    O. rhodantha K.Schum.
    • Opuntia polyacantha var. arenaria (syn. O. erinacea)
  • Opuntia pubescens (syn. O. pascoensis Britton & Rose)
  • Opuntia pusilla – Creeping cactus. Syn. O. drummondii Graham
  • Opuntia quitensis – Red Buttons Opuntia (syn. O. macbridei, O. johnsonii, Platyopuntia quitensis)
  • Opuntia rastrera
    Opuntia rastrera
    Opuntia rastrera is a prickly pear which grows in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. It is known in Spanish as cuija, although that name can also refer to other cactuses such as Brasiliopuntia.-Description:...

  • Opuntia repens
    Opuntia repens
    Opuntia repens is a species of cactus that is native to dry forests Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It is a small shrub, growing up to 50 cm tall, with yellow flowers and red fruit...


  • Opuntia robusta
    Opuntia robusta
    Opuntia robusta, Wheel Cactus or Camuesa, is a species of cactus in the Cactaceae family. It is native and endemic to Mexico, North America.-Description:...

  • Opuntia rufida (sometimes included in O. microdasys)
  • Opuntia saxicola
    Opuntia saxicola
    Opuntia saxicola is a species of plant in the Cactaceae family. This critically endangered species is endemic to the Galapagos Islands , where restricted to Isabela.-Source:* Tye, A. 2000. . Downloaded on 22 August 2007....

  • Opuntia schumannii
  • Opuntia soehrensii
  • Opuntia stenopetala (syn. O. riviereana Backeb.)
  • Opuntia streptacantha
  • Opuntia stricta
    Opuntia stricta
    Opuntia stricta is a species of cactus from southern North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. Common names include Erect Prickly Pear and Nopal Estricto ....

    – Erect Prickly Pear, Spineless Prickly Pear, Coastal Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia subulata – found in South America
  • Opuntia sulphurea
  • Opuntia taylori
  • Opuntia tehuantepecanaNopal de Caballo
  • Opuntia tomentosa – Woollyjoint Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia triacantha
  • Opuntia tuna
  • Opuntia velutina
  • Opuntia violacea



Formerly in Opuntia

  • Austrocylindropuntia
    Austrocylindropuntia
    Austrocylindropuntia is a genus of cacti . There are 11 recognized species, which were once included in the genus Opuntia. Some are native to South America.- External links :*...

  • Brasiliopuntia
    Brasiliopuntia
    Brasiliopuntia is a genus in the cactus family Cactaceae.It is found in central Brazil, north Argentina, east Bolivia, and east Peru.- Species list :* Brasiliopuntia brasiliensis A...

  • Corynopuntia
  • Cylindropuntia
    Cylindropuntia
    Cylindropuntia is a genus of cacti , containing the chollas. They were formerly treated as a subgenus of Opuntia but have now been separated based on their cylindrical stems and the presence of papery epidermal sheaths on the spines...

  • Disocactus phyllanthoides
    Disocactus phyllanthoides
    Disocactus phyllanthoides, Nopalxochitl or German Empress, is a species of Cactaceae and is commonly grown as an ornamental cactus pot plant. It is one of the three major species involved in creating the widely grown Orchid Cactus or "Epies"...

    (as Opuntia speciosa)
  • Micropuntia
    Micropuntia
    Micropuntia is a genus of highly specialized, tuberous Opuntioid Cacti in North America.-Distribution and habitat:Micropuntia is restricted to the Great Basin region of the Western United States, specifically in western Utah, northern Nevada, and far eastern California.-Habitat:Micropuntia cactus...

  • Miqueliopuntia

External links