Santa Rita - Purple Prickly Pear,
Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita, Opuntia gosseliniana var. santa-rita,
Opuntia chlorotica var. santa-rita
Opuntia violacea var. duraznilla - Is the long spine Purple Opuntia also
available on another page.
These blue-green, purple, and magenta cacti become more vividly colored if
stressed by cold or drought.
The cactus pads are usually spineless, but they do have numerous glochids,
which in many ways are far worse than spines! The glochids are like
microscopic spines and will penetrate the skin if touched even lightly. They
are quite irritating and difficult to remove because of their small size.
The reddish brown glochids of Opuntia violaceae are very loosely attached and
fly off when the plant is handled. The loose glochids are an irritant, and can
get under clothing, in eyes, and may even be a breathing hazard. For safe
handling, wet specimens before moving. The water weighs down the glochids,
preventing them from becoming airborne.
When handling or moving cultivated Santa Rita Prickly Pears, wet down the
plants to prevent the easily dislodged glochids from becoming airborne and
possibly getting into the eyes or being inhaled.
Its range extends through the Southwest from Texas to California, Utah, and
Nevada on into Mexico. Arizona being the center. Visitors will readily find
these at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument south of here and in the
Saguaro National Park in Tucson to our east.
This adaptable species grows in various kinds of habitats to over 4000 feet in
elevation. It thrives in almost any well drained soil. Like all Opuntias, it
requires full sun. This is hardy to the low teens.
All the prickly pears, these have flattened, oval to round pads or joints.
These joints are in fact constricted areas of the stem nodes.
This prickly pear produces true leaves. However, these aren?t what we
ordinarily think of as foliage. These emerging leaves appear during the early
Leaves: flat round pads, to 10in long, new growth is reddish or purpley,
mature pads off-green In fall all pads may be purple, aeroles evenly spaced
about one inch apart, spines sparce on face but found in tight rows along
perimeter of pads. Numerous yellow, fuzzy-looking glochids are dangerous.
Like most prickly pears, the pads are flat. Unlike most prickly pears, they
have a violet, pink, or red tinge, hence the name. The cactus reaches mature
heights of one to five feet and blooms either yellow or red. These being
offered are yellow flower.
Prickly Pear Cactus is known for its ability to
lower blood sugar levels, helping with diabetes. Prickly Pear Cactus is
believed to lower blood glucose levels, partly due to its coating of the
Also is used as a hangover inhibiter. TEQUILA!
Prickly Pear Cactus is also good for the
digestive system, loaded with Vitamins B1 and B6 and Calcium.
When handling prickly pear-use tongs! They are
'spineless' but do have small furry spines that can drive you nuts... if
cooking, run them over an open flame on stove first, This burns off the fine
spines. Or peel like a potato... but why waste them!
To root cuttings, bury half the pad sections in
soil or just lay flat on the ground and sprinkle a little soil on top and
sides leaving one face exposed. Or cut pad in 3-4" pieces and root cut-sides up
for multiple plants.
Water cuttings once a week in dry areas and let
dry put completely for the first few months. After the first summer, cacti
should survive on rainfall. Water during prolonged droughts to promote plant
Prickly Pear Cactus is said to be effective if
taken prior to drinking alcohol in preventing hangover. Prickly Pear Cactus is
said to be effective in treating gastrointestinal infections, strengthening
the tissues of the digestive tract, and in lowering cholesterol.
Juice or split pad section also useful
topically in the healing of minor scrapes and burns.... also seems to work
getting the furry stickers out too! Used similar to agave.
The fruit is used to produce preserves, jelly,
pies, candy, syrup, sorbet, drinks, and wine....
The pads are used in many recipes and sold in
stores out here as Nopalitos. The fruits (pears) are known as 'Tuna'..
Search 'Luther Burbank nopal' you will be
amazed how many uses Burbank found for this cacti from hypoglycemia to
mosquito control! Amazing BIG cacti!
In the early 1900's, in the United States the Nopal rickly Pear fruit was imported
from Sicily and other Mediterranean producing countries to satisfy the growing
population of immigrants arriving from Italy (Sicily) and Greece. The fruit
lost it's popularity during the mid 1950's and has become increasing in
popularity recently in the late 1990's until today, due to the influx of
Mexican immigrants, because it was and is their favorite fruit.
Recently the Cattle industry of the Southwest United States has begun to
cultivate Opuntia ficus indica as a fresh source of feed for Cattle. The
Cactus is grown both as a feed source and a boundary fence. Cattle avoid the
sharp spines of the Cactus and do not stray from an enclosed area of Opuntia
ficus-indica. The nutrition available in the cactus pads, which is what the
Cows feed on, far surpasses that found in corn and other Cattle feed. In
addition to the food value there is the moisture content that virtually
eliminates watering the Cattle and the human effort in achieving that chore.
Mexican and other southwestern residents eat the young cactus pads, and the
usually picked before the spines harden. They are sliced into strips skined or
unskined, and fried with eggs & jalape?os, served as a breakfast treat. They
have a texture and flavor like string beans.
Also, the cladodes are eaten as nopales. Other uses include as an ingredient
in adobe (to bind and waterproof clays).
The plant spread to many parts of the Americas in pre-Columbian times, and
since Columbus, have spread to many parts of the world, especially the
Mediterranean where they have become naturalized (and in fact were believed to
be native by many). This spread was facilitated by the carrying of nopales on
ships to prevent scurvy.
There's no end to uses. See a great site for
many more just search "Prickly Pear Recipes" on net.