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.