The tale of the prickly pear

On Wednesday we thoroughly enjoyed our return to Azinhal for the short circular walk in the valley. There wasn’t much in flower to photograph, and I failed to capture any shots of the Merlin (or was it a Hobby). However there were plenty of prickly pears in fruit, and seeing them reminded me of what happened the first time we enjoyed this walk. We were a little too intrigued by them.

We have regularly observed at least two species of this cacti here in the Algarve – Opuntia fiscus-indica and Opuntia stricta – both pictured above. Whilst I don’t photograph them very often I have always been curious about the fruit of  ‘Prickly Pears’, also known as barbary fig, cactus pear and Indian fig. So last year we decided to get a little bit closer to the fruit of an Opuntia stricta. Oops! It isn’t just the spines on the joints you need to be wary of, there are also numerous tiny sharp bristles on the fruit. And they have a crafty way of attaching themselves to your skin so that you find yourself ‘prickling’ for quite a while afterwards!

Despite the dangerous bristles and spines the plants are cultivated for their fruits, which are used for sweets. jellies, jams and drinks. I have tried Prickly Pear liqueur in Malta, but I have not tried any Prickly Pear products in the Algarve yet.

Harvesting may be a challenge, but growing them is definitely not. They easily reproduce by seed and also by stem fragments detaching and rooting to form new plants. No wonder Opuntia have now naturalised across Portugal. This might be great for anyone who enjoys making jam or who is looking to create a hedge to keep out animals, however it is not so great for the native vegetation. Opuntia is considered an invasive species in Portugal, and apparently in some areas attempts are being made to control it.  I am guessing not in the east Algarve though, as only a couple of years ago the association of Prickly Pear Producers opened its national headquarters in Alcoutim.Beware of the spines

PS Did you note the length of my title? Yup this is a Six Word Saturday.

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

37 thoughts

  1. Hey 😀 Really love your post about the Prickly Pear! I am a student from Portugal and I am using the cactus Opuntia ficus-indica to purify water! If you want to know more about the project, here is the link:
    If you like it, please leave a like on the video. The project is competing in a contests and we need a lot of likes to get to the next phase. Thanks! 😀

    1. Hi Laura
      Thank you so much for your message and for sharing the video. Your project is amazing. Do hope you get to the next phase.

  2. You are braver than me. I wouldn’t touch them. But this is interesting and now I know why it’s called a prickly pear!

  3. They are served on the breakfast buffets in most hotels in Sicily and I was tucking in with much enjoyment until my French companion snatched my plate away from me, telling me they were used as a laxative in France – a very, strong laxative! I still ate them, but with great care.

    1. Hi it me again on prickly pears . . .thought you might be interested in the comment and video left by a Portuguese student. It seems they can filter water as well as act as laxatives!! If you have a moment do look at the video, as the students are after video likes so they can take their project to the next phase 🙂

  4. It’s the same in Australia. Prickly Pear plants were brought in as ornamentals and of course soon invaded the bush. Then, cactoblastis moths were imported from South America to control the plants. The moth lays its eggs in the plant and the larvae eat it. The plants are also poisoned in an effort to remove them. I’ve never eaten the fruit but I’ve heard of jam being made from it.

      1. I had to do some research about this. Here they just attack the prickly pear, which is a good thing. But in some South American countries they have begun to affect the native cacti and some species have become endangered.

        1. That’s excellent for you in Australia albeit hope they don’t go the way of the ones left behind in the Americas

    1. Me again! I thought you might be interested in the comment that a Portuguese student has left on the prickly lears. Amazing what they have done. If you have a moment do look at the video, as the students are after video likes so they can take their project to the next phase 🙂

  5. Wonderful visual piece for me Becky that you have captured well. Enjoy your latest sojourn in Portugal

  6. I’m on the ball! Spotted the 6 instantly 🙂 🙂 Why do I always seem to like the invasive stuff? Livingstone daisies are my favouritist ever.

    1. Got another reason for you to love prickly pears! They can filter water. A Portuguese student has just left a comment and video on them on this post – quite amazing. Thought you might want to watch it too, it is at the top of the page.

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