Friday, July 13, 2012

Prickly Pear Necessities


Wherever I wander, I keep one eye on the ground and one eye ahead in search of the next fun thing to write about. Occasionally this method leads to an inspiring, albeit, cross-eyed vision. Green Briars (Smilax sp.) are a particularly nasty, thorny vine. Field Sandspurs (Cenchrus incertus) are alarmingly painful and hurt as bad being pulled out as when they went in. The Florida Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa) is the grand daddy of local thorny plants with long, sturdy spines attached to fleshy, succulent pads. So far I’ve had the good fortune of avoiding them. A friend of mine? Not so lucky. 
© Pete Corradino
Watching someone stomp out of the woods like Yosemite Sam with a cactus pad and spines sticking out of their leg is cartoonishly comical. But it’s best to keep your amusement to yourself. It was hard not to feel his pain as he yanked each spine from his shin. In addition to the obvious barbs, smaller tufts of hair-like spines called glochids are located closer to the pad and can cause serious irritation. 
© Pete Corradino
Despite being torn from the parent plant, the cactus pad that ended up in my friend’s shin and subsequently discarded, is capable of putting down roots and continuing to grow. Prickly Pears are right at home in an astounding diversity of environments, from the coastal dunes of Massachusetts, to the sandstone cedar glades in Kentucky to the saw palmetto scrub of Florida. One thing they don’t tolerate is shade, but where there is sun, watch out for the Indian Fig as it’s also called. 
© Pete Corradino
In Florida, Prickly Pears bloom all year, producing a waxy, yellow flower that grows at the top of the pad. Eventually an edible, red “fig” remerges. Both fruit and pad are edible but all spines and glochids have to be removed. If you don’t want it stuck in your leg you certainly don’t want to ingest it. 
© Pete Corradino
The Prickly Pear is found throughout two-thirds of the United States and part of Canada, so watch your step and watch for critters that use the cactus as a spiny fortress. 

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