When people speak about cacti, their minds usually go to the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) and little Mexican men statues.
Cacti are succulent plants. A succulent is one that stores water in its roots, stems, leaves or trunk so it can call on in times of stress or drought.
No doubt you will all have some succulent plants in your garden even if you don’t recognise them as such. My husband has a collection of different ones and they are so easy to grow and care for they are almost the perfect “set and forget” plant.
If global warming is true, and who can doubt the scientists, these may be the only plants we can grow in the future.
In common with other cacti, our plant is native only to North and South America and its offshore islands but has now been spread by mankind to many countries.
It grows really well if you give it the right conditions – some rain and a warm to hot climate. In fact, it has the propensity to become an environmental weed in many places.
Prickly pear was imported into Australia in the 18th century to be grown as an ornamental plant. Its other use here was to help to develop a cochineal dye industry.
However, it became an almost indestructible pest, only being more or less eradicated by the biological method of introducing a South American moth whose larvae eat this plant.
You can eat the fruit if you are persistent and patient and have plenty of time to remove the fine hairs from the outside as well as the seeds. People who have done so say it is delicious. I believe you can eat the seeds but I’m not sure what it would do to your insides!
If you do decide to grow this plant, keep in mind it is designated as an invasive weed in Australia.
I would only grow it in a pot and dispose of any excess by putting it in a black plastic bag in the sun until it has completely rotted down. Don’t put it in the compost or dump it in bushland.