Plants of the genus Opuntia belong to the Cactus family. The first description of Opuntia was given by the Spanish missionary Bernardino de Sahagun in his fundamental work The Florentine Codex back in the 16th century. The modern database The Plant List includes 194 species of Opuntia cacti, in this material you will learn about the most popular of them. You will also receive information about caring for Opuntia at home and using the fruits of this cactus.
What does prickly pear cactus look like and a photo of its fruits
At the end of the last century, botanists combined almost all representatives of the Opuntia subfamily into the genus Opuntia. However, in the modern system, almost all of their previously distinguished groups have again acquired the status of separate genera, including such beautiful and peculiar cacti as Georgia (Grusonia) and Tephrocactus (Tephrocactus).
Most Opuntias are unsuitable for room culture due to their large size, dangerous spines, low decorative effect or high requirements for keeping conditions.
As you can see in the photo, the prickly pear cactus in the nature of Brazil is a tree reaching four meters in height:
However, among these succulents there are several species that are popular with cacti growers and are easy to cultivate.
For example, the pretty Opuntia brasiliensis (Brasiliopuntia brasiliensis) is a bright green plant with rounded stems and branches and leaf-like flattened end segments.
For us, Opuntias are exotic, ornamental plants, and in their homeland they are one of the most common and rather annoying plants. In the most diverse regions of both Americas, thickets of Opuntia are found everywhere. They are completely impassable because of sharp, strong spines sticking out in all directions and all-penetrating glochidia. Moreover, even the thorns of segments that have long dried up and fallen to the ground are dangerous: they pierce the soles of shoes.
But these mass plants are not only dangerous in the places of their natural growth, they play a significant role in the life of the local population. Young shoots of this succulent have long been used in cooking (raw and fried), large and juicy fruits are tasty and nutritious, and in some species they have a delicate, refined taste.
These photos show the fruits of Opuntia used for food:
Prickly pear is also very important as a fodder pasture plant. True, thorns are a huge obstacle in this, but, firstly, local cattle somehow adapt to overcome this obstacle, and secondly, American researchers identify the most suitable forms for pastures and breed special varieties.
Look at the photo of the Opuntia plant in the wild:
Description of the types of prickly pear cactus
Here you can find photos, names and descriptions of Opuntia species, the most popular in cactus collections.
This cactus grows well and, unlike other Opuntias, does not require much sun, but it never blooms indoors.
If you want to grow flowering prickly pear at home, plant microdasis albata (O. microdasys var. albata). This charming cactus is remarkable for its small size, white areoles, from which glochidia do not spill out, and large pale yellow flowers, occasionally appearing on very young (2-3 years with vegetative reproduction) bushes with sufficient sunlight.
These photos show how Opuntia blooms at home:
The indoor plant Opuntia species O. salmiana (salmiana) also blooms easily with elongated cylindrical skeletal shoots, from which almost spherical end shoots grow and buds very similar to them. They open in summer into white flowers with few broad petals.
As you can see in the photo, in this type of prickly pear cactus, bright red juicy berries appear in place of flowers (in which, if there was no pollination, there are no seeds):
New buds and globular shoots may form on the berries. As a result, the long trunk turns out to be hung with elegant clusters of red and green balls – like a Christmas tree. Segments-balls cling to anything and easily leave the mother plant, so close contact with the most interesting Opuntia salmiana is not the greatest pleasure.
Often at home, the prickly pear cactus subulata (O. subulata) is grown. In shape, it resembles a pillar with long cylindrical leaves on the young part of the stem, it looks unusual and fits perfectly into compositions of cacti or other plants.
Cactus growers, however, often breed this cactus as a rootstock. The listed Opuntias and related species grow well in the room during the growth period, good lighting, not very cold wintering (not lower than 10 ° C).
There are many winter-hardy among Opuntias. All representatives of this genus reproduce mainly vegetatively: it is difficult to obtain seeds of these cacti in room conditions, in addition, they germinate poorly due to a very thick shell.
Paradoxically, the well-known cactus – Opuntia monacantha (O. topacantha = vulgaris) – is practically not found in the collections of cactusists. This is due to its large size (after all, the most scarce in the collection of cacti is space) and not so much attractiveness.
Meanwhile, Opuntia monacantha is not without interest for specialists. After all, she is one of the few Opuntias that can form a normal, and most importantly, flowering bush under room conditions, and quite quickly.
Opuntia monacantha (another common name for this plant is Opuntia vulgaris) embodies the typical appearance of Opuntia: dark green cakes growing one from the other, large, sharp needle-like spines.
Pay attention to the photo – in this Opuntia at home, small, early falling leaves may appear on growing shoots:
Breeders have bred decorative cultivars of Opuntia Monacantha – monstrous and variegated.
Very decorative and unusual Opuntia leucotricha (O. leucotricha) often looks unrecognizably plain: thin curving yellowish shoots with short bristles of an indefinite color.
In reality, it is a powerful, proudly beautiful plant (in nature – a tree up to 3 m high) with thick cylindrical skeletal (trunk and branches) and fleshy elliptical flattened lateral segments. The spines are hairy, chalky white, constantly growing and therefore thick and long on perennial shoots. This prickly pear does not bloom in room conditions – it does not reach the necessary development, but even without flowers it is an exceptionally beautiful plant.
Here you can see a photo of what the prickly pear cactus looks like the most popular species:
Care for prickly pear cactus at home (with photo)
Prickly pear monacantha is easily propagated by rooting individual segments or even their individual parts, but always matured.
With good care for the prickly pear cactus, the vitality of this plant is amazing. It is a common object of domestic bullying: children, cats, dogs, guests – all leave traces on them: cuts and scratches, burns, broken thorns – frequent signs of Opuntia veterans. And yet, they retain their expressiveness and originality. Monacantha prickly pear tolerates prolonged drying and sharp drops in temperature, strong sun and prolonged exposure to darkness grows in almost any substrate and with any watering regime.
In good conditions, this plant can become simply magnificent. With sufficient sunlight, planting in a spacious dish with nutritious (preferably on a clay-soddy basis) soil, regular (but not excessive) watering with a break in the winter, it grows into a luxurious bush with rounded thick dark green “cakes” and regularly spaced thorns. And most importantly, this bush at an early age can bloom with large, somewhat reminiscent of roses, orange-yellow flowers.
With cross-pollination, you can also get fruits – edible, the size of a plum.
When caring for an Opuntia cactus at home, large specimens need supports or tying up, as their heavy branches lean downwards and break off easily. By tying up and removing unwanted shoots, these plants can be formed.
To grow a beautiful prickly pear leucotricha, the same conditions are needed as for the monacant species. Plus one condition – maintaining the cleanliness of the spines of the hairs.
Regular spraying with warm vodka and occasionally washing the entire stem contributes to the development of hairs and keeping them clean and fresh.
Opuntia leukotricha reproduces in culture, like Opuntia monacantha, only vegetatively. However, its shoots are softer and rot more easily when rooted. They need to be thoroughly dried and rooted, without waterlogging. It is also important to cut the cutting in such a way that the cut point is as narrow as possible.
Look at the photo of prickly pear cactus care at home to better understand how to grow this succulent:
Communication with both of the plants presented (as with other Opuntias) requires some precautions. Along with the large spines decorating them, they carry the smallest jagged spines-glochidia, which fall from the plant with any shock.
Glochidia easily dig into the skin, but finding and extracting them is quite difficult. Therefore, you should try to work with these plants so that their stems do not end up over unprotected areas of your body.