Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our Family Cactus

When I read an article about a family that had kept a Boston Fern going for 114 years, it reminded me of the family Opuntia Ficus-Indica (Indian Fig Opuntia) that I have in my garden. It originated from a cactus that grew in my grandmother’s garden, planted there when they established their farm in the early 1920’s. My sister and nieces took pads from that old cactus years ago and started their own plants. My sister’s cactus is now about eight feet high. When I moved to my current property, I took a pad from my sister and started my own. My daughter also has a large specimen started from the family cactus.

Opuntia ficus-indica is one of the most common crop plants in many parts of the world, especially Mexico. The prickly pear fruit, or tuna, is widely eaten, as are the pads, or Napoles. Scientists say this plant provided food for humans as long as 10,000 years ago. In addition, the pads are good for animal food, and the cactus has many medicinal uses. Known for its diuretic, analgesic, laxative properties, it is also supposed to cure hangovers. It’s no wonder my grandparents wanted this versatile cactus in their garden.

O. ficus-indica can get huge, up to 10 feet high with a 15-foot spread. As it gets older, it forms a trunk with a woody appearance. The pads are virtually spine-free, and are a nice green color. This cactus needs no supplemental water. If rainfall is especially scarce, the pads will shrivel, and the plant could use a bit of water but will live without it. In the spring, yellow-orange flowers will appear along the edges of the pads. Eventually pears will form as the flowers die. In some countries, the O. ficus-indica is considered a noxious weed.

Interestingly, my sister’s large cactus has never produced flowers. After my cactus matures a bit more, I’m hoping to have some flowers and fruit, but I think it’s a long shot. Oddly, none of the O. ficus-indica specimens growing in our separate family gardens has produced flowers, even those whose cactus plants are over 10 years old.


Julie said...

WOW...what a mess with your husbands poor fortune! That blood thinner can make things very tricky at times...amazing how it came up so darn quickly and without much warning, if any!
I am soooo happy he is OK, and that you are back with us too...I felt like a fish out of water while you were gone! I am so looking forward to eventually seeing all of the blooms your spring garden produces!!! I just noticed my little aloe plant in my tires, is blooming...will get a pic soon! I redid my blog, and added 2 more blogs to move my animal posts to, and my photos of Acalypha to, trying to keep succulents by j. to a true garden blog...( I will try)...LOL...
Ever onward...Happy New Year now that hubby is safe and healing!!!

kate said...

I was relieved to hear that your husband is on the road to recovery. That was good news. I hope his physio goes well and he is back to full strength soon.

Better yet, was to see that you are back to documenting your plants.

This cactus, to me, looks like a wise plant. It obviously has a bunch of interesting uses.

But the best thing is that it has been a link between your Grandma's garden and your garden. There's something priceless in that!

verobirdie said...

From Julie's comment I understand that your husband is doing better and back home. That is good news. I've been thinking of you both many times in the last days.
It's also nice to have you back and to learn more about those cacti :-)

No Rain said...

Kate and Julie, I'm glad to be back, and my husband is more than glad to be home!
Verobirdie, I left an explanation as to what occured in the comments section of the previous post (Jan. 4.)

nikkipolani said...

Aiyana, so glad your husband's home and on the mend. I was interested to read that your cactus does not have many spines. That sure makes eating and handling a lot easier! For the plants that have fruit, do they have spines?

No Rain said...

All prickly pear have glochids, the tiny, hairlike spines located in the little dimpled areas on the cactus pad. However, the O. ficus-indica can have a few, a lot, or sometimes, hardly any at all. As far as the large thornlike spines, they are not found on this species. Regardless of the number of glochids, the cactus can produce flowers.

Ginni Dee said...

I'm so happy your DH is back on the mend! Good to see you posting again too.

Your family cactus is lovely. I'm love to see some photos of a blooming cactus. I used to have some prickly pears that bloomed and they were lovely. I got them in Wyoming, the ladies in the restaurant who gave me a paper cup to put them in to bring them home told me they'd never last in Illinois. But they lasted for years. I finally had to get rid of them, due to some remodeling we did. I wish I had kept a start or two from them.


chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice to have a hand-me-down plant.

O.K., so I have one of these on my property.
It looks very out of place amoungst the redwoods and manzanitas.

It has pears on it.
How do you know when they're ripe and how do you eat them?

No Rain said...

The pears turn red or purple, depending on the species of prickly pear. See this site for how to prepare and eat the tunas and napoles.

Muum said...

I learned a lot to day about these cactus. We hand down lilacs, being from OHio. I wonder why your hand me downs have not bloomed? (btw, neither has my 'heritage' lilac!)