Prickly Pear cacti are an established native food source for the Southwest Desert. The flat-jointed cacti can be found from Western Canada down to tip of South America. These erect, spreading cacti grow with flat joints, and paddle-like "cladodes" segments growing in chains one from another. They are also commonly referred to by names for their parts: tuna (fruit), nopal/nopales (paddle/paddles). The most common species is the Indian fig opuntia (Opuntia ficus-indica)
This cactus thrives in mild winters with prolonged dry spells followed by hot summers, occasional rain and relatively low humidity. 14-20" in annual rain is sufficient which makes this an ideal fruit bearing plant in desert landscaping. The opuntia prefers well-drained soil with a maximum clay content of about 20%. Shallow root systems
Showy flowers can be white, yellow and red in color starting in early May through the early summer, with fruits ripening from August to October. The sweet red fruit are a favorite for jellies, and are typically eaten after chilling in the refrigerator for a few hours. They are described as having a sweet watermelon-like taste. The tiny hard seeds are usually swallowed, but should be avoided by those who have problems digesting seeds.
Erosion Control - This cactus can be planted as a hedge as an effective way to control erosion on slopes.
Natural Building - Can be an ingredient in adobe to bind and waterproof roofs.
These plants are considered invasive in South Africa and Australia.