Prickly Pear

Latin Name: Opuntia stricta



Origin: Native to the Caribbean region.

Alternative Name(s): Erect Prickly Pear.

Family: Cactaceae.

Known Hazards: The plant has numerous minutely barbed glochids (hairs) that are easily dislodged when the plant is touched and they then become stuck to the skin where they are difficult to see and remove. They can cause considerable discomfort

Habitat: Open dry areas. Rocky bluffs, sand dunes, dry rocky or sandy grasslands.

Edibility Rating: 3 (1-5)

Medicinal Rating: 1 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics: Flowers: yellow, mostly on the margins of the fleshy segments. Flowers late spring to summer.The flowers are hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.An erect shrub to 1 m (rarely to 2 m) high. Trueleaves are shed early and stem segments are often incorrectly referred to as leaves. Lower segments may be thickened and trunk-forming on older plants while flattened upper segments are up to 40 cm long and up to 25 cm wide. Fruit are egg-shaped with a depressed top, purple when ripe and edible. Seeds pale brown, to 5 mm long.

Distinguishing features: Distinguished by showy yellow flowers about 6 cm wide; presence of small bristles (glochids) in clusters in depressions (areoles) on segments and fruit, these glochids readily attach to skin and are difficult to remove; areoles on segments may also have 1 or no spines to 6 cm long.

Dispersal: Spread by seed or vegetatively by segments that root where they contact the ground.

Edible Uses

Detail of Flower

Detail of Flower

Fruit – raw, cooked or dried for later use. Sweet and gelatinous. Lean and insipid. The unripe fruits can be added to soups etc, imparting an okra-like mucilaginous quality. The fruit can hang on the plant all year round. The fruit is up to 4cm long and 3cm wide. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity. Pads – cooked or raw. Watery and very mucilaginous. Seed – briefly roasted then ground into a powder. It is also used as a thickener.


Medicinal Uses

Pectoral; Poultice; Warts. A poultice of the peeled pads is applied to wounds, sores etc. The juice of the fruits is used as a treatment for warts. A tea made from the pads is used in the treatment of lung ailments.

Other Uses

Gum. The following notes are for O. ficus indica. They almost certainly also apply to this species. A gum is obtained from the stem. It is used as a masticatory or can be mixed with oil to make candles. The juice of the boiled stem segments is very sticky. It is added to plaster, whitewash etc to make it adhere better to walls.


Notes: Common Prickly Pear was the major weed problem in large areas of northern NSW and central Queensland in the early 1900s. This cactus is now found over a larger area but is rarely a problem. During the 1920s and 1930s various biological control agents were released for its control. Two of these, Cactoblastis Cactoblastis cactorum and a cochineal, Dactylopius opuntiae, control this cactus in most areas.

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