10 Cactus Pear Varieties (Plus Vital Information About Pear Cactus)

Prickly pear cactus, close up shot.

Is it possible to eat prickly pears? What are they like to eat? The following is a list of prickly pears and what to expect in terms of flavor.

There are dozens of kinds of prickly pears that are classified as ‘Opuntia’ by scientists. There are several non-native kinds, and identifying all of them can be difficult even for prickly pear fans.

They produce flat paddle-like to cylindrically shaped leaves, which are used to make edible prickly pears. They produce flowers that range in color from gorgeous tones of crimson to bright yellow.

The majority of subspecies are more tolerant to cooler climates than other cacti.

The shape and size of the various types vary, from some that grow almost as big as trees to those suited for groundcover.

They thrive in zones 7 to 10, but they can be planted almost anywhere and brought inside as a potted plant during inclement weather.

Prickly Pear with Indian Figs

One of the most well-known and popular prickly pears.

For commercial purposes, the Indian Fig Prickly Pear is usually planted in an arid setting. So that its abundant flushes of delicious prickly pears can easily blossom, these can be found in Canadian and US markets.

They are sometimes called ‘tuna,’ which is a mispronunciation of the scientific term ‘Opuntia.’ Prickly pears can be eaten raw or cooked. They’re used in various recipes, drinks, candies, etc preserves.

Before attempting to germinate seeds, they should have been matured for at least a year. Before planting, make sure they’re completely dry and free of pulp.

Late summer and early autumn are the best times to pick them. They are fire engine red when completely developed, with burned orange inside meat and pulp. Other colors include yellow on the outside and honeydew green on the inside.

Prickly Pears in Purple

There are several types, and their pads have a purple to lavender flush. In the conditions of a drought, the blush on a selected type of pears can intensify.

Prickly Pears Without Spines

When grown outside of their natural habitat, spineless prickly pears (O. ellisiana, O. stricta, or O. robusta) are typically utilized as ornamental plants. They have fine stiff hair (called glochids) that can hurt the skin despite being spineless. They feature beautiful yellow flowers with a red flush on occasion.

The pads are used in containers or for xeriscape gardening and might be green or have a bluish waxy coating. Although the Opunita ellisiana and O. stricta tend to be shrub-like at 2 to 5 feet tall, the Opunita robusta can reach a height of 15 feet. They have edible pads and grow sweet fruits, similar to the Indian Fig type.

Prickly Pears in Miniature

Prickly pears often develop low clusters of small pads. The golden beavertail prickly pears (O. aurea) feature clear yellow flowers and develop pads that are 2 inches broad. Prickly pears with bunny ears, also known as polka dot prickly pears (O. microdasys “Albata”), grow in compact clumps of little pads with snowy white spines.

Joseph’s coat prickly pear (O. monacantha variegata) is a unique pear with variegated green and cream pads and little red blossoms that grow to around 18 inches tall. Except for the variegated variant, which is hardy down to USDA zone 9, all are hardy from USDA zones 7 to 10.

Prickly Pear Santa Rita Purple

The pads of certain prickly pears have a vibrant purple blush. The purple pads of the “Santa Rita” prickly pear (O. violacea) intensify in hue during times of stress or drought. The “Baby Rita” (O. basilaris) cultivar has purple pads, grows to only 8 inches tall, and produces pink blooms.

A reddish-purple hue can be found on some blind prickly pears (O. rufida). All are frost-hardy, but they do best in the drier areas of USDA zones 7 to 10. Naranjona is number seven.

It has a silky texture and a sweet honey-like flavor.

Cristalina Prickly Pear

It’s a little bland, similar to an under-ripe honeydew.

Xoconostle

A focused shot of Xoconostle growing in Hidalgo, Mexico.

This is a sour prickly pear that you should not consume fresh unless you love sucking a lemon. It is used as a spice in Mexico and various kinds of sauces.

Juana

This one is sour but not quite as sour as Xoconostle. Its seeds can also be eaten raw.

Yellow Platenera

One of our favorites, but it isn’t easy to come by. It tastes like a combination of bananas and mangoes.

Amarilla Montesa

Has a pleasantly sweet golden flesh with a hint of acidity.

Nutritional Values of Prickly Pears

Prickly pear has magnesium, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins C and B, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, potassium, and many other components in its nutritional value. One cup of this fruit can provide a significant portion of the daily need for numerous vitamins and minerals. Remember that the calcium in this traditional desert plant could not be in its biologically active form. It’s in the form of a non-absorbable compound (calcium oxalate).

Native Range and Species

The genus Opuntia has 300 nopal cactus species native to southern Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America. These cactus can be found down to Argentina. Nopal is a Spanish word that is extensively used in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. The edible pads are also known as nopal. Prickly pear cactus is another widespread term, especially in native English-speaking areas.

Characteristics

Nopal cacti range in size from small, low-growing types that grow less than a foot tall to gigantic, 20-foot-tall cacti. The stems, commonly referred to as pads, are large and flat, resembling a paddle or a rabbit’s ear. When young, nopal pads are thornless.

Sharp thorns develop as they age, growing to be 3 inches long or longer. Flowers blossom around the pads’ edges. Edible fruits grow when the blossoms fade. The fruit of the Nopal cactus, known as tuna, ranges in color from pale yellow to deep purple.

Conditions of Growth

Nopal cactus can grow in various settings, from hot and humid to dry and desert, and can even thrive in locations when winter temperatures are below freezing. Drought-tolerant nopal cacti can thrive in rocky, poor soil, but they cannot endure damp, soggy, or poorly draining conditions.

Nopal cactus requires little to no upkeep once grown. Large variations can be used as a landscape specimen, or smaller kinds can fill in gaps in rock gardens and rock walls.

Try a Few Different Things

Bunny ears (Opuntia microdasys) are 3- to 4-foot-tall nopal cactus that form 4- to 5-foot-wide mounds. When juvenile, the new pads, or stem portions, are red, and when mature, they are green. Bunny ears cactus may be found in USDA zones 8 to 11.

The Baby Rita Prickly Pear is a dwarf type that is great for rock gardens and pots (Opuntia basilaris hyb. “Baby Rita”). It only grows to a height of 8 inches and spreads to a width of 24 inches. In USDA zones 8 through 11, “Baby Rita” thrives.

The prickly pear Opuntia compressa, sometimes known as devil’s tongue, is a low-growing plant that grows 6 to 12 inches tall and is native to the Eastern and Central United States. USDA zones 4 through 9 are suitable for this plant.

Things to Be Aware Of

To eat cactus fruit, you must first remove the skin, which is covered in razor-sharp spines. If ingested, these spines can cause damage to your mouth, throat, and stomach. If you eat too many of the black seeds in one sitting, you may experience constipation.

Cactus Fruit Preparation

Cactus fruit can be found at several shops and farmers’ markets. When purchased in a place cultivated locally, they are more widely available and less expensive.

Put on a pair of gloves and carefully slice off the rough top and bottom pieces to get started. Then, slide the knife vertically through the skin and peel the fruit skin away. You can cut and eat the soft fruit however you want once you get it.

If you want to attempt some cactus fruit recipes at home, here are a few to try:

  • To make a fresh fruit salad, cut cactus fruit into cubes and mix with orange slices.
  • Make a cactus fruit jam or jelly.
  • Use cactus fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and water to make your sorbet.
  • Make a cactus fruit lemon bar in the oven.
  • Make a smoothie using cactus fruit.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this list of prickly pears that can be eaten. If you’re looking for any or have already found some and want to know what they taste like, you now know what to anticipate. Prickly pears are different from other fruits because they have different parts that can be eaten, even ifyou’re not a fan of eating the fruit’s flesh.

For instance, the pad of a cactus pear is often used in Mexican households to decorate different food items. It can be boiled and added to soups and some people can also use it as a salad’s dressing. While eating the pear isn’t a tedious process, deciding what you’re going to use it for is. But if you’re like us, who just enjoys delicious treats, eating this pear is a must!

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