Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Nopal
Opuntia ficus-indica

Family: Cactaceae (kak-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Opuntia (op-UN-shee-a) (Info)
Species: ficus-indica (FY-kuss IN-dih-kuh) (Info)

Synonym:Cactus ficus-indica
Synonym:Opuntia vulgaris
Synonym:Opuntia maxima
Synonym:Opuntia cordobensis
Synonym:Opuntia tuna-blanca

46 members have or want this plant for trade.

Cactus and Succulents

15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)
36-48 in. (90-120 cm)
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
Bright Yellow

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer


Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
This plant is fire-retardant

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From woody stem cuttings
From softwood cuttings
Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

Seed Collecting:
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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12 positives
3 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive kinderegg On Mar 8, 2015, kinderegg from Las Vegas, NV wrote:

This is a fast growing cactus by cactus standards. It needs supplemental water here in the Mojave desert, but it is quite drought tolerant. I like the fruit, which varies wildly from plant to plant. It clones easily from a separated mature pad. If you find a plant with particularly good fruit, clone it in a loose medium and don't overwater it. This plant does contain glochids, so handle with care.

Positive martenfisher On Jan 16, 2013, martenfisher from Crystal River, FL wrote:

So much false information here about this plant. Opuntia ficus-indica is an ancient form of hybrid believed to be started in Mexico thousands of years ago. This plant has been developed to withstand different conditions in different regions. It is generalized that Opuntia ficus-indica can not survive certain conditions. Some varieties can sustain temps easily to the lower teens while others may freeze in the upper 20's. Some will rot in high humidity or rainy conditions while other varieties may survive with no problem in these conditions. I have many varieties of Opuntia ficus-indica from Mexico to Peru. I have done substantial testing on this wonderful plant the many forms of fruits they produce. If you think there is one standard for this plant then you would be wrong. Just like tomato, lettuce, or potato varieties so are the Opuntia ficus-indica.

Positive BayAreaTropics On Oct 5, 2012, BayAreaTropics from Hayward, CA wrote:

They to me,taste like watermelon-strawberry light..not very sweet in bay area plants. Our cool summers have a hand in that. Still,fun to have one of these no care..and I mean,NO CARE plants.

Positive Peterthecactusguy On Apr 28, 2012, Peterthecactusguy from Black Canyon City, AZ wrote:

O. ficus-indica is not COLD/wet winter hardy. 16F will kill them. Many in my area are dying slowly from the cold two winters ago.

I cheat and put mine on a south facing wall and they are doing ok. They survived the 31F winter. BTW the plant that I got was a natrualized plant that grew from seed in the school;s yard. Plant was going to be removed and thrown into the garbage so I dug it up roots and all.. Caution this plant HAS glochids, I got plenty of them on me. The plants around here have orange flowers and spiny trunks at the base with reddish colored glochids.
My plant hasn't bloomed yet, it's less than 2 years old with around 15 pads.

Positive guygee On May 4, 2009, guygee from Satellite Beach, FL wrote:

According to an article in the Arizona Journal-Miner - Oct 5, 1910, page 2 (available via Google) the USDA was cultivating 8-10 varieties of "spineless prickly pear" in Chico CA and Brownsville TX, with a planned distribution of 8-10 tons in the spring of 1911 for testing of agricultural economic viability. The varieties were not to be distributed to areas where temperatures reached below 20 degrees, and specified areas of distribution included Coastal Florida, as well as parts of Texas, California and Arizona.

Perhaps this helps explain some of the confusion that centers around the various varieties of spineless prickly pear.

The cultivar that I am growing in Central Florida is completely spineless and without glochids down to the base, The tender skin of the wrist may be rubbed anywhere on the plant without irritation.

Edit: My specimen and its all of the other plants propagated from it now all have small glochids this season, in the hot and dry summer of 2010. Perhaps the unusual weather has been a trigger, but I must retract the above claim that I know of any cultivar that is "glochid-free".

Neutral goldenstate On Mar 12, 2008, goldenstate from Fresno, CA wrote:

There is a great confusion as to the different varieties of opuntia. This Opuntia Ficus-Indica is ONLY hardy to about 20 degrees. There are other Opuntia species that are much more tolerant of freezing temperatures, two of them being native to michigan (Opuntia Compressa and Opuntia Fragillis). Those growing Opuntia outside of zone 8 and higher, are growing a different species of opuntia, NOT Opuntia Ficus-Carica.

Positive ogrejelly On Jan 31, 2008, ogrejelly from Gilbert, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

Not much to add based on other comments but I have found that this has to be the most hearty plant I have. I had some kids in the neighborhood smash mine down to a pile of mush with a stick and the thing just came back within a few months.

It is also about the easiest thing to transplant in the world.... just stick a broken off pad that has dried up for a week in the ground and there it goes. Survives in PHX without any water but I usually give it a little each month just to keep the pads full and lush. A terrific plant with little to no waist and zero maintenance... just be careful as it grows fast!

Positive OldeOake On Mar 31, 2005, OldeOake from Back of Beyond, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

This variety ( opuntia ficus-indica) has very edible pads and fruit. You will still need to clean off the tiny spines (versus long spines) off with a vegetable peeler.

The fruit have largish seeds, slightly smaller than a nasturtium seed.

Not all verieties of opuntia are edible, however.

The correct term in Spanish for the fruit is tuna (plural tunas) and the word is pronounced just like we pronounce in English the word for the fish; no ~ is present in the spelling or pronunciation.

The fruit can be eaten out of hand, fresh, or cooked into jelly or jam.

To prepare for eating, the pads are cleaned of any spines with a knife or vegetable peeler, then can be cooked whole or cut into julienne strips (this is the more common way, rather than
cooking / eating whole pads.)

The raw julienne strips are combined with sliced red onions, chopped cilantro, chopped resh tomatoes, and lime juice with salt to taste to make a nice fresh salad.

You may also parboil the julienned strips and stew with a chile & tomato salsa, or stew with chiles and tomatillos, or scramble with eggs and load into tortillas to make tacos.

Nopalitos (cactus pads) are a very traditional Mexican lenten food.

They are full of fiber and have a high water content. They are low in carbs and calories and have many nutrients.

They are also a traditional folk remedy for diabetes.

Positive cacti_lover On Mar 29, 2005, cacti_lover from Henderson, NV (Zone 9b) wrote:

This cactus is not as hardy as listed. The pads will suffer damage below 20F, but the plant itself usually recovers. It suffers more from wind damage than frost damage in this climate.

This is a very useful cactus. It looks nice as a landscape plant but can be use as barrier fence as well. Both the fruits and young pads are edible. The ripe fruits are sweet and juicy, but the seed are very hard. The pads has a slimy texture similar to okras, but has a slight sour citrus taste to it.

Neutral Xenomorf On Nov 30, 2004, Xenomorf from Valley of the Sun, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

If you can pick the new pads when they still have the leaves on them (young and forming), then there will be no spines or glochids on them, only the leaves, which can be rubbed off under running water. No need to peel if picked young enough.

BTW- this species is ONLY cold hardy to zone 8b.

Other synonyms include: Cactus opuntia, Platyopuntia vulgaris, Cactus compressus, Opuntia compressa [illegitimate] & Platyopuntia cordobensis.

In a 2011 publication: Opuntia paraguayensis was re-assessed and found to be a synonym of Opuntia ficus-indica.

Positive gray48 On Feb 2, 2004, gray48 from Kings Mountain, NC wrote:

When I lived in South Carolina, along the borderline of North Carolina as well...these cacti grew like mad! My husband would cut them back and throw the pieces over the fence into a pasture. He was hoping the pieces would die and we looked a few months later and they had continued growing and spreading, crossing the low part of the fence and into his lawn. All he could say was " you just can't kill the darn stuff! ". They were beauties every summer. He had a friend who would want the fruit part of this plant. I had no idea one could eat those things. His friend said they were good, I did not try it! I have posted a picture of our plant, still to be reviewed.

Positive htop On Jan 4, 2004, htop from San Antonio, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

San Antonio, Tx.
The tuberous prickly pear, native to Mexico and the southwestern regions of the United States and also found in South Africa, Spain, and Italy, is a trunk-forming segmented evergreen cactus which can grow to to 15 feet tall and to 10 feet wide. However, I have never seen any this large in my locale. They are usually up to 6 feet tall and wide. The large, oblong-shaped, pads have few spines. The old pads form woody stems.

Yellow or orange cup-shaped flowers are produced on the perimeter of the pads in spring or early summer. It performs best in full or reflected sun, adapts to various types of soil that has good drainage and is drought tolerant. The pads shrivel during severe drought which indicates a need for supplemental water; otherwise, there is no need to water the plant once established. It is hardy to the mid 20s (some sources list 15 degrees) with low 20s causing some damage to the pads.

Nopales is the Spanish name for prickly pear cactus pads, considered a vegetable. They have been a food source in Mexico for hundreds of years and have recently gained popularity in the United States as well. The pads have extremely high amounts of vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and vitamin A, but low levels of protein. The small, new pads are tender and good to eat once debarbed of any spines. Napoles are a little bit tart and taste somewhat like green peppers (others say they taste more like tart green beans or tart asparagus). Nopales can be purchased in some grocery stores especially in the southwest and always in Mexican markets. Of course, they can also be gathered from the prickly pear cactus itself if available.

Nopalitos are nopales diced or cut into strips and are available pickled or packed in water in cans. Used in salads, omelets, casseroles and soups, as a grilled dish and as a pan fry after being rolled in corn meal, they may be prepared in a variety of other ways. Candied nopales, acitrónes, are available in cans or jars packed in sugar syrup.

Native Americans made a poultice from napoles to put on bruises and sprains and to dress wounds. They made an ointment for burns and stings. After they boiled and crushed the pads, they placed the gooey juice in mortar or whitewash to increase its adhesiveness. When repairing the San Xavier Mission Church near Tucson, modern cement was used, but failed to do the job because the building could not “breathe.” Later, Indian workers mixed the mucilage from prickly pear pads with a mud mix and succeeded in the secomd attempt at preserving it. To increase the hardiness of candles, pad juice has been boiled with tallow. The sap has been used in the production of commercial alcohol.

Once the bloom has faded, the approximately 3.5 inch long pear-shaped edible fruit called tunas are formed. At first they are green and when fully ripe, they are a reddish- purple. They are eaten by deer, turkeys, sheep, javelinas, goats, cattle and a wide variety of other animals including humans. A delicious jelly can be made from the tuna's juice. The juice can be mixed with 7-Up or Sprite, pineapple juice and, if desired, alcoholic beverages to create a pleasant tasting purple-colored punch. Some Native American Indians thought a tea brewed from the tuna would cure gallstones. In addition, the tunas are used to make a majenta die.

For more than 150 years in Texas and northern Mexico, the prickly pear cactus (pads and tunas) has been used as emergency food for cattle and other grazing livestock. I can personally attest to the fact that cattle just love it. I started a plant outside of the field that is opposite my yard. The cattle (only 5) escaped because the electric gate became stuck while open. Instead of eating my plants like they usually did when they escaped, they headed for the then huge prickly pear cactus plant. When they were rounded up and placed back in their own "yard", the tunas were gone as well as most of the pads. I was really upset at first, but then I was happy that they had not eaten the other plants in my yard. The plant grows so fast, it will recuperate in time.

Positive pigeon1943 On Oct 24, 2003, pigeon1943 from Harwinton, CT wrote:

I trasplanted one from Oklahoma to CT, and with winter mulch, and planting on south side(sunny side) of house, it flourishes! Had many transplants from cuttings -dozens, and they grow fast.

Positive davecwik On Aug 12, 2003, davecwik from Smiths Creek, MI wrote:

its a fasinating low matinence catcus hardy to cold winters. it is also edible but be very careful skining it

Neutral Kelli On Mar 28, 2003, Kelli from L.A. (Canoga Park), CA (Zone 10a) wrote:

It seems that every old adobe house in California is accompanied by an Opuntia ficus-indica. The young pads (nopales) and ripe fruits (tunas - that's an n with a ~ over it) are edible. These plants have also been used as a living "barbed wire" fence.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Black Canyon City, Arizona
Chandler Heights, Arizona
Fountain Hills, Arizona
Gilbert, Arizona
Green Valley, Arizona
Mesa, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Yuma, Arizona
Amesti, California
Fresno, California
Hayward, California
Knights Landing, California
Manteca, California
Pomona, California
San Francisco, California
San Jose, California
San Leandro, California
San Marino, California
Harwinton, Connecticut
Crystal River, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida (2 reports)
Lake Worth, Florida
Neptune Beach, Florida
Orange Springs, Florida
Orlando, Florida
Rockledge, Florida
Satellite Beach, Florida
Chicago, Illinois
Jacksonville, Illinois
Calvert City, Kentucky
Kenner, Louisiana
Smiths Creek, Michigan
Kansas City, Missouri
Henderson, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Albuquerque, New Mexico
La Luz, New Mexico
Roswell, New Mexico
Kings Mountain, North Carolina
Madison, North Carolina
Arlington, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Kempner, Texas
Kermit, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Santa Fe, Texas
Friendship, Wisconsin

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