Monday, June 13, 2011

Prickly Pear Beauty

Several years ago I visited the shore house of one of my yoga students. She had a patch of prickly pear cactus growing on the side of her house. They were blossoming and I thought how exquisite the flowers were and how unexpected from such a harsh plant. She gave me a piece of the cactus, which I planted in my side yard. Over the years it grew slowly, putting out a few buds and a flower or two but this year…the cactus is in full bloom! I can only imagine what the desert must be like when the various cacti are blooming.

Besides the beauty of its flowers, though, this is a surprisingly beneficial plant. It is a complex carbohydrate food whose various parts may be eaten. The pads are vegetable-like with a green bean quality and okra texture, the flowers impart fruity tastes and can be made into candy or jelly, and when cooked down the nectar can provide an alcoholic kick (tequilas anyone?). It has medicinal qualities, too, that may in lower cholesterol and regulate glucose in diabetics; the sap is like aloe vera and can be used to soothe burned or irritated skin. But it is called prickly pear for a reason. The spines can hurt and can be hard to remove from unprotected skin.

I am not inclined toward anything except admiration right now so I’ll be careful and keep my distance. It is an interesting plant to ponder on, though. It’s beautiful but dangerous. It looks so plain until it flowers but what a wealth it is hiding. And one wouldn’t think that a cactus would survive in this northeastern environment yet here it is, bursting with life. A beautiful reminder of the mystery of nature.

Here are some more photos of prickly pears from the Google files:
Images for prickly pear cactus


  1. Ferida,

    Will we be enjoying some yummy prickly pear at our next meeting? Another jewel of an essay.


  2. Thanks so much, Barbara. Re the prickly pear snack - How brave are you? I might have to buy it because I would worry that I didn't get out all the prickles.