The Prickly Pear Plant Caper – Foraging plants

I had read about Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa), for a few years and liked the look of the plant and the idea that they would grow in my Zone 5 climate. I like cacti and succulents and these plants appealed to me. I also liked their medicinal values being into herbs and natural remedies. You can also make a jelly from them and I like unique jams and jellies.

Well, forager that I am, I spotted some Prickly Pear cactus while on a trip in Southbend Indiana. I was there for a week long National Studebaker Convention. The days were long at the convention and it was my first time at such an event so I knew very few people. This meant I had time to get into trouble.

By the hotel we were staying at there was a restaurant that has closed down at least a year before. Its condition was very sad, with boarded up windows and a parking lot that was growing in. But there was a corner of neglected prickly pear cactus by the back of the restaurant building.

I kept my eye on that patch of plants all week wondering if I could clip a few of the prickly pear tops off to take home and start new plants.

The day that we were to leave for home I ventured out the door of the hotel about 5 am with cardboard box, knife and newspaper in hand. I gingerly removed some tops by slicing the top off while holding the top with newspaper to protect my hands from the little prickers. I returned to the hotel with my stash in hand and wrapped them in wet paper towels for the eight-hour trip home.

Of course my friends were appalled, but it was no worse than the Mr. Bill cardboard figure that disappeared from the hotel lobby room! I had nothing to do with that!

My Prickly Pear caper was seven years ago. The plants made it home and were planted after rooting in pots over the summer. They are beautiful to this day. The restaurant was torn down about five years ago and the plants around the building were bulldozed. So, I saved a few plants. And prickly pear plants are endangered plants in some states.

Plant information

For those of you not familiar with Prickly pear cactus they are low-growing, spreading cactus. They are native to the eastern United States, anywhere east of the Rockies. They will grow as far north as Massachusetts and are hardy between USDA Zones 3 and 9.

The prickly pear cactus is one of the 200 species of prickly pear cactuses that are native to the southwestern US, Mexico, and Central America and South America. The plant is sometimes called devil’s tongue.

Prickly pear cactus will grow wild in sandy fields and pastures and in soils derived from limestone and sandstone bedrock. They have delicate looking showy yellow flowers, which are quite large. The flower is approximately 3 to 4 inches across and in bloom during May and June.

The prickly pear cactus prefers full sun and is drought tolerant. It is easily propagated. Simply place the pads on top of or in sandy soil and it will quickly root.

Prickly pear cactus is an excellent plant to grow in containers or in a sunny rock garden. I grow mine in the front of the house where the sun beats all day long and many plants refuse to grow.

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Denise

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