Opuntia, commonly called prickly pear or pear cactus, is a genus of flowering plants in the cactus family Cactaceae. Prickly pears are also known as tuna, sabra, nopal from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus.
Cactus pear fruit tastes like a cross between intense, concentrated watermelon and cucumber. The texture is grainy like that of watermelon but denser and firmer.
Named for its pear-like shape and size, the cactus pear comes from one of several varieties of opuntia cactus. Its prickly skin can range in color from green to purplish red; its soft, porous flesh (scattered with black seeds) from light yellow-green to deep pink. Also called prickly pear, this fruit has a melon-like aroma and a sweet but rather bland flavor.
The fruits grow on the edges of large, flat, green paddles called nopales in Spanish. The cactus fruit itself is called tuna in Spanish. The cactus paddles are also edible and can be grilled, sauteed, or pickled. Both are extremely popular in Mexico, Central and South America, the Mediterranean countries, and Southern Africa, and have gained popularity in the United States.
The fruit is eaten raw, cooked, or dried for later use. Sweet and gelatinous. Very refreshing, they are somewhat like a watermelon in flavor. The fruits are up to 10cm long and 9cm wide.
Requires sandy or very well-drained soil. Prefers a pH in the range of 6 to 7.5. Plants must be kept fairly dry in the winter but they like a reasonable supply of water in the growing season. A position at the base of a south-facing wall or somewhere that can be protected from winter rain is best for this plant. Requires warmth and plenty of suns.
The flowers are astringent and are used to reduce bleeding and treat problems of the gastrointestinal tract, especially diarrhea, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Flowers are also used in the treatment of an enlarged prostate gland.
Scarification: Soak in hot tap water, and let stand in water for 2 days. Stratification: none required. Germination: sow seed 1/8" deep, tamp the soil, and mulch the seed bed. Other: Germination may be irregular and some seeds may lie over 2 years before germination.