Opuntia ficus-indica (Linnaeus) P. Miller 1768
Cactus ficus-indica Linnaeus 1753
Cactus opuntia Linnaeus 1753
Opuntia vulgaris P. Miller 1768
Platyopuntia vulgaris (P. Miller) F. Ritter 1979
Cactus compressus R. A. Salisbury 1796 (illegitimate name)
Opuntia compressa McBride 1922
Opuntia maxima Salm-Dyck ex A. P. de Candolle 1828
Opuntia cordobensis Spegazzini 1905
Platyopuntia cordobensis (Spegazzini) F. Ritter 1980
Opuntia tuna-blanca Spegazzini 1925
Indian fig, Indian fig prickly pear, mission cactus, Nopal de Castilla, smooth mountain prickly pear, smooth prickly pear, tuberous prickly pear, tuna de Castilla, tuna mansa
Indian fig is native to central and southern Mexico, but it has long been cultivated and is naturalized in the southern United States, South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean. Cultivars are numerous, as these cacti are farmed, trapping water and converting it into biomass better than most plants. These cacti are able to grow “rain roots,” temporary roots that absorb water quickly after rain and wither away afterwards.
Identification: Plants are 3-20' (1-6 m) high, usually smaller and shrublike, sometimes with a central trunk, resembling small trees. Stem segments are oval in shape, variously narrow or wide, tapering at the base, 8-24" (20-60 cm) × 4-10" (10-25 cm) in size. The areoles, or spots that contain small tufts of spines, are ¾-1¾" (2-5 cm) apart; the spines themselves are small or often absent. Flowers are yellow to orange to red, and 1¾-4" (5-10 cm) in diameter. Large, juicy fruits (“tunas”) are up to 4" (10 cm) long, yellow, orange, or reddish purple. They usually lack spines.
Edibility: Prickly pear fruits have been eaten by people since ancient times. Most recipes that refer to “prickly pear cactus” refer to Indian figs, which are prized for their sweet, watermelon-like flavor and bright red/purple or white/yellowish color. They are eaten raw, usually with a little lemon juice; used to produce jams and jellies; or to create a Mexican alcoholic beverage called colonche; as well as for liqueurs and margaritas. The fresh flowers are edible. The seeds can be ground into a meal, the pads cooked like beans; even the stems yield an edible gum.
Medical: A study performed by Jeff Wiese, MD; Steve McPherson, MD; Michelle C. Odden, BS; Michael G. Shlipak, MD, MPH at the Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, found that an extract from this plant significantly reduced hangover symptoms from alcohol consumption. Provided, that is, that you have the foresight to take the extract five hours before you drink.
Opuntia ficus-indica on Wikipedia
Opuntia ficus-indica on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Opuntia ficus-indica on Wikimedia Commons
Opuntia ficus-indica at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and the Plants of the Sonoran Desert
Opuntia ficus-indica description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.