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