A perennial succulent herb with long, sharp spines. The flowers are have tissue-like yellow petals, and often a redish center. Like most other members of the largely American cactus family, prickly pear cactus flowers are large and showy.
The fruits are shaped like a short cigar, pink, and sometimes not spiney. This plant requires extremely well drained, usually sandy soil. At Quail Ridge they must import the sand in order to grow it.
The fruits of the prickly pear cactus are used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine in jams and salsa; in the case of salsa, the leaves (without the spines, hopefully) are sometimes also used. The use of this plant for food by native americans extends back untold centuries, but it is only now becoming known as a food in western society.
History and Lore
The name "cactus" is derived from the Greek word "kaktos" which refers to an unrelated plant, the cardoon.