Opuntia ficus-indica is the largest genus of the family Cactaceae that include around 200 species. Opuntia ficus-indica, also known as Prickly Pear, is a tree-like cactus that can reach the height of 3 metres. The Opuntia has flat, fleshy pads that resemble large leaves. The pads are actually stems that serve several functions including photosynthesis, water storage and fruit production. The pads range from 10 cm to 46 cm. Larger pads have been known to grow as wide as 23 cm or more. Similar to other cactus plants, the prickly pear cactus has long, sharp spines that grow from the pads. Tiny spines called glochids, can be found at the base of the more predominant spines.
Both the pads and fruits of the Opuntia ficus-indica are edible. The cactus is harvested for its fruit and for the pads, although the fruit production is currently more common. From early spring to summer, the cactus blossoms and sets fruit, which line the edges of the pads.
Opuntia ficus-indica are native to many environments, ranging from desert areas below sea level to high- altitude areas such as the Peruvian Andes and from the tropical regions of Mexico, where temperatures are always above 5C, to areas in Canada that can fall to -40 oC in winter (Nobel, 1999). Its adaptability is ample reason for considering this species as a highly valuable resource for a wide variety of ecological zones.
The geographical spread of the Opuntia ficus-indica is ranging from the western to southern United States, Mexico, Northern Brazil, to Southern mediterranean Europe (including Italy and Spain) and to The plant has become important for fodder in many parts of the world, such as Tunis, Morocco, UAE, Italy, Israel, Spain, USA, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina.
- Agro-industrial utilisation of cactus pear. FAO, 2013.
- Effect of water stress on agronomic traits of cactus pear (Opuntia ficus indica L.), Life Science Journal 2012;9(1s).
- Agronomic evaluation of Opuntia spa. Varieties for Fodder Production in the Semiarid Northeast Brazil. S Gonzaga de Albuquerque, D. Cordeiro dos Santos.
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