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May Flora Spotlight:
Prickly Pear Cactus

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus 
Opuntia compressa


The prickly pear cactus is a versatile plant that has the distinction of being a vegetable, fruit and flower all in one. The plant is clump forming and semi-prostrate. Flattened round to oval green pads have needle-like spines and tufts of glochids (bristles). Showy bright yellow flowers appear in late spring, maturing to pulpy red or purple fruit. 

The pads, seeds, fruits and flowers are all edible and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Diced pads can be used to thicken soups and stews. Peeled pads can be baked like squash or pickled. The seeds can be dried and ground into flour. The peeled and pressed fruit can be made into juice by adding water. Jelly and candy is also made from the fruit. Artist use the fruit for making natural dyes. 

There has been medical interest in the prickly pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the pulp lowers levels of bad cholesterol while leaving good levels unchanged. Prickly pear cactus is an easy to grow, drought resistant plant for your yard. Just plant the individual pads and they will grow. They thrive in a sunny location with dry, sandy or gravelly soil. They will tolerate clay soil with good drainage.

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