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Some cactus fruit must be eaten with caution

Question: I would love to plant op-a-la-ah (not sure of spelling) cactus, the kind that looks like Mickey Mouse ears and grows red cactus pears, also known as prickly pears. Several of my neighbors have them. The problem is the tiny stickers on the fruit. I have heard that there is a variety that does not have stickers. Please advise me what they are called.

I am sorry, but I could not figure out what cactus you mean. However, I have grown cactus for their fruit. The fruits that we see commercially in Mexican grocery stores typically come from the Opuntia cactus. These fruits, called tunas in Mexico, are harvested ripe from the pads. Typically, we can see red, yellow or green fruits. If you have the right type of cactus or selection, they can get a pretty high sugar content.

I don’t know of any totally spineless ones that have good fruit. There are some that are nearly spineless, but you still have to prepare them with caution. Wear gloves or use newspaper to protect your hands and use a sharp knife.

If you look at the harvested fruit, it resembles a barrel in shape. To eat the fruit, cut off the ends of the barrel with a sharp knife, then cut down the fruit lengthwise (barrel end to barrel end) just below the skin. The skin is then peeled back exposing the inner pulp. The pulp is full of hard seeds, but it is sweet.

Other cactuses can be grown for their fruit as well, such as vine cactus, including the pitayas and dragonfruit, and some columnar cactus such as the cereus.

Bob Morris is a professor emeritus in horticulture with the University of Nevada and can be reached at extremehort@aol.com. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.

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