Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prickly Problem

Beavertail Prickly Pear Cacti (Opuntia basilaris) pads are normally four to eight inches long and wide and are shaped like a beaver’s tail. Occasionally, the pads can reach 13 inches long, which means my Beavertail is quite peculiar. It has wavy pads, scalloped pads, round pads, and taco-shaped pads, but not one pad shaped like a beaver’s tail. Some of its pads are 26 inches wide and 18 inches long. Moreover, it has never flowered.

Beavertails are known for their abundant flowering, even on a single pad plopped into the soil just months before. This specimen started in my garden as one pad two years ago. Rather than flower, it adds improbably--shaped pads, and now has over 30!

Beavertails are a sprawling variety of Opuntia and usually stay under two pads tall. This one is now three pads tall at two years old. Not one pad has dropped. The pads are really quite attractive with their unusual shapes and their distinctive purple outlines, but I chose this variety of Opuntia strictly for its bloom potential. The flowers on the Beavertail are a gorgeous pink to fuchsia, and I placed my specimen where I could see those expected flowers from my family room window--flowers that have never arrived.

Since there are no flowers, I suppose I could eat the pads. Opuntias have been used for food for centuries. With the size of the pads on this specimen, I could feed a crowd! The pads, or Napoles, are a vegetable that tastes a bit like green pepper, and the pears, which form from the flowers, are a fruit that is reminiscent of watermelon. The pears are called Tunas, and both the pads and pears are common in grocery stores in the Southwest. Already diced pads, or Napolitos, are also readily available. For the adventurous, Gourmet Sleuth explains everything you never wanted to know about cooking and eating Prickly Pear.

The one thing normal about this specimen is its abundant glochids, which caused some grief once when I bumped into it. The glochids are made up of thousands of miniscule stickers that cling tenaciously to skin. The more you rub, the worse it gets. Because there are no spines, they look harmless enough, but these invisible stickers are worse than most spines!

I have checked with cacti specialists at the Desert Botanical Garden to find out if my Beavertail is a mutant, or if the problem with the weird pads and lack of flowers is environmental. No one wants to hazard a guess, so I guess I'll just enjoy its inimitability.


Julie said...

Well, I decided to start reading your blog from the beginning! Reading about your beavertail has me curious...I wonder if it would bloom in a different area...or has no one ever seen it bloom anywhere? Very intriguing!!! I guess the Botanical folks there didn't really have an answer...would be a good question to pose to the gardeners in the cactus and succulent section of

Anonymous said...

just ran into your blog. Do you fertilize your Opuntia? Excessive and distorted vegetative growth could be caused by an excess of nitrogen. The lack of flowering could also be related to that. Nevertheless, it looks impressive.

Aiyana said...

No, no fertilizer on any of the desert plants. However, my property, before development, was a watermelon field/rye field. That could very well have provided some unknown fertilizer to the soil. This same Opuntia finally died from cochineal scale infestation. See post for the sad details.