General Pasture

Opuntia: Prickly Pear Cacti native in Virginia and its fascinating companion

What an unexpected find! While planting apple trees, these cacti were observed and subsequently identified on my favorite plant ID forum.

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Somewhat related: I’ve always wanted to brew a prickly pear infused beer. All my attempts at trading harvests with hobby gardeners out west had fallen through so I put the project on the back burner. According to the helpful forum members that identified the cacti for me, the fruit of these wild varieties are intensely flavored but overly seedy. While limiting their uses as a food, it sounds like it would work fine in a beer! Forum members also provided instruction on how to cultivated it in a manner that encourages fruiting.

They also Id-ed the fuzzy cabbage-looking companion to the cactus and it turned out to be fascinating. Most people warned it was an agricultural pest, but it requires open ground where it quickly is out competed by native vegetation and is very shade intolerant. I fail to see how it is a pest!

Especially considering its medical uses in treating:

  • asthma
  • spasmodic coughs
  • diarrhea
  • expectoration
  • consumption
  • dry cough
  • bronchitis
  • sore throat
  • hemorrhoids
  • sores
  • rashes
  • skin infections
  • catarrhs
  • colics
  • earaches
  • frostbite
  • eczema
  • warts
  • boils
  • carbuncles
  • chilblains
  • Antibacterial and anti-tumor

Or its general uses:

  • Green and yellow dye, historically used in hair
  • Candle wicks
  • insulating shoes and clothing
  • Candles and torches when dipped in a fatty material
  • Fire bow or bow drill
  • Insecticide and pesticide and piscicide

Last and most important to the farm, it flowers in excessive quantities providing nectar for bees. Planting this “pest” near my orchards would act like runway navigation lights leading my air traffic to pollinate the fruit and nut trees.

I really need to keep my 2,000 page plant key book from college on hand. Plants will never cease to be amazing.

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One thought on “Opuntia: Prickly Pear Cacti native in Virginia and its fascinating companion

  1. Pingback: Virginia Native Prickly Pear Cactus are fruiting! | thegreenergrassfarm

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