Optunia Engelmanii otherwise known as the Prickly pear has come into bloom. This has to be one of my favorite cacti, it gives of itself over and over. Some call it the weed of the desert, yet sadly I see alot of dead Prickly pear this year. I think it might have to do with the drought we have been suffering from. I am working on propagating my fine friends. It is quite easy to do so. You take a clean cutting of a pad. Then you need to let it sit for about a week or two. Then it will scab and it is ready to transplant into the ground. Just stick your trowel into the ground, move the dirt a bit and with leather gloves protecting your hands from the glocoids, and prickles and pat around it to make sure it is secure. It should root in about 1-3 weeks. Don’t water it until it has rooted to protect it from rot as the roots need to grow first to absorb the water. Oh and by the way if you do get thorns in your hands rub them with rocks it helps get the thorns out.
Now why you ask would you grow a desert weed. Well in the republic of Seed we take propagating and growing seriously and when we see a species having a hard time we like to just fill a few in for good measure. Besides look at these wonderful gifts of flowers. Do you want a sustainable flower arrangement? Just take a pad and cut it cleanly. Make sure it has blossoms, set in a vase that will allow it to sit half way up and do not add water. You are letting it callous standing up. For a more decorative look add rock to the bottom of the vase, set in the pad, and wait a few days. You won’t believe it but it will share the most beautiful blooms with you. Once it is done blooming it will usually be a bout a week or two and you are ready to transplant the prickly pear pad. What a gift right?
There is more. This fine specimen will offer up fruit (tunas) soon after it blooms, sometime in May and June. This fruit makes a wonderful jam. The recipe follows: 15-30 tunas-skin and take thorns off with stones or a knife. You know the fruits are ripe when they are a dark, dark purple and sort of soft. Now get lemon or lime juice, powdered pectin, about a cup and a half of sugar ready. Mash the fruits, follow the directions on the pectin box, bring to a boil and add sugar stirring till the juice starts to get a jammy feel. Bottle up in sterile jars and let sit. Refrigerate for an unusual tasting highly nutritious jam.
Not only does it make tasty jams, but you can eat the fruits after you take off all the thorns. They are quite tasty.
Prickly pear also makes a fine landscape plant as you get wonderful flowers, fruits, and nice structure as they grow into groups, and at times even prickly pear trees. Sometimes the pads look like Mickey mouse ears…Quite fun for the kids.
So before you call the prickly pear or any thing native to the desert a weed…. think about all the wonderful benefits they bring not only to us but to the wildlife , prickly pear feeds many species of wildlife, it benefits the land by keeping down the dust and dirt, and the beautifies the desert landscape. The republic of seed loves the prickly pear. I will show you how the transplants are doing in a later post. Until then…go plant some prickly pear pads, or at least enjoy the blooms.