prickly pears

How to Grow -Prickly Pears

This post is the result of a strong desire to grow something different here in the Northeast US, and a great deal of research.
For some reason there is a lot of confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation on the internet when it comes to this plant.

eastern prickly pear cactus

Eastern prickly pear cactus.

And that’s understandable- after all, who would think a cactus could grow wild in Michigan?
Well, okay… maybe people from Michigan.

So here’s what I have found:

1. The Prickly Pear fruit that you find in the markets is from the plant Opuntia ficus-indica and grows where you would expect cactus to grow. Not in the East.

2. There is another relative to this one, known as Opuntia humifusa or Eastern Prickly Pear that also has edible fruit. This plant is hardy to at least Zone 2, some say Zone 1.
And that’s what I am growing.

eastern prickly pear cactus

6 weeks later

3. It can take heat and drought, it can also handle shade.

4. While it is recommended that you plant it in sand or cactus potting medium, I used potting soil and it’s growing fine. Soon I will be transplanting it to the garden.

5. You can grow it from seed; or propagate by cutting one of the pads off and placing that in about an inch of (choose 1) sand, cactus soil, potting soil. I would bet that if it is growing wild in Michigan, and I understand in the Buffalo, NY area as well, you could start it in any kind of soil.

eastern prickly pear cactus

Propagated plant.

Botanical name: Opuntia humifusa, perennial.
Yield: One seed will produce an endless supply of pads, or nopales, which are also edible.
Each pad will also produce fruit, but it can take up to three years before it begins to flower and produce.
Storage: The fruit can stay on the plant throughout the winter months. It is reputed to taste like a cross between watermelon, kiwi, and bubblegum. Most often it is turned into jelly and canned.

NOTE: Always wear gloves when handling this plant.
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