Thursday, December 13, 2007

Opuntia Engelmannii

In the almost three years this Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s Prickly Pear) has been in my garden, it’s never received supplemental water. A southwest desert native, it can survive with only a few inches of rainfall a year, and continue to grow and thrive.

In the desert, it can become very large, up to a 20-foot spread and about three feet high. In a landscape setting, pruning controls size. I have not yet pruned this cactus as it is on a slope and has plenty of room to spread another six feet. I have landscape lighting, and one spot highlights this cactus, casting a large shadow. This provides sculptural interest to the garden at night as you can see from this very poor photo—taken without a tripod.

In the past, ranchers have planted this cactus as a natural barrier to keep livestock from moving from certain areas, and to keep people out. Can you imagine trying to cross this barrier? In drought conditions, the cactus also served as feed and liquid for livestock after singeing off the spines and glochids.

In May, yellow flowers (or sometimes orange-red) appear, followed by purple-red fruit that makes a good jelly. The pears are also eaten raw or cooked, as they are in Mexico. The pears also provide food for several forms of wildlife.

The only problem I’ve had with this cactus has been an infestation of Cochineal scale, described in a previous post.


CommonWeeder said...

What a wonderful blog - and garden. My garden at the End of the Road in Massachusetts is in a very different zone, but even so there are things we can learn from one another - not to mention admire in each other's gardens. I particularly liked the photos of your garden and the riprap stream bed for rainwater management. I am learning more and more about sustainability in the garden and one of the important principles is how to conserve water, and manage heavy rainfall.
Common Weeder

Moe @ said...

Great stuff! We've been buried under ice for a week, but your Desert Gardening warmed me up a bit!

Julie said...

That cactus shadow is scary! But cute plant! I find opuntia so cute, in a prickly sort of way!!!