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Opuntia ficus-indica - (L.)Mill.

Common Name Prickly Pear, Barbary fig
Family Cactaceae
USDA hardiness 8-11
Known Hazards The plant has numerous minutely barbed glochids (hairs) that are easily dislodged when the plant is touched and they then become stuck to the skin where they are difficult to see and remove. They can cause considerable discomfort[200].
Habitats Naturalized in the Mediterranean where it grows in dry arid and rocky places[89].
Range Original habitat is obscure.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Well drained soil Full sun
Opuntia ficus-indica Prickly Pear, Barbary fig

(c) 2010 Ken Fern & Plants For A Future
Opuntia ficus-indica Prickly Pear, Barbary fig


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Opuntia ficus-indica is an evergreen Perennial growing to 5 m (16ft) by 5 m (16ft).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 9 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf all year, in flower from June to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

 Cultivated Beds; East Wall. By. South Wall. By.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Fruit  Leaves  Seed
Edible Uses: Gum  Gum

Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use[3, 7, 20, 46, 61, 89]. Sweet and gelatinous[85]. Very refreshing, they are somewhat like a watermelon in flavour[183]. The fruits are up to 10cm long and 9cm wide[200]. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity. Pads - cooked and used like French beans[20, 183]. Watery and very mucilaginous[85]. Flowers - raw[20]. Seed - ground into a meal[20, 92]. An edible gum is obtained from the stem[64].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antispasmodic  Diuretic  Emollient

The flowers and stems are antispasmodic, diuretic and emollient[7]. The split stems have been bound around injured limbs as a first aid measure[254]. The flowers are astringent and are used to reduce bleeding and treat problems of the gastro-intestinal tract, especially diarrhoea, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome[254]. The flowers are also used in the treatment of an enlarged prostate gland[254].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Fodder  Gum  Gum

A gum is obtained from the stem. It is used as a masticatory or mixed with oil to make candles[64]. The juice of the boiled stem segments is very sticky. It is added to plaster, whitewash etc to make it adhere better to walls[92].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Fodder: Bank  Minor Global Crop

Requires a sandy or very well-drained soil[1, 3]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 to 7.5[200]. Plants must be kept fairly dry in the winter but they like a reasonable supply of water in the growing season. A position at the base of a south-facing wall or somewhere that can be protected from winter rain is best for this plant. Requires warmth and plenty of sun[3]. Plants tolerate considerable neglect[3]. Cultivated in many warm temperate and sub tropical areas for its edible fruits[89,183] and its use as a stock-proof barrier, it is not very cold-tolerant and is unlikely to survive the winter outdoors in Britain. There are some named varieties[183], one at least of which is free from spines and irritant hairs.

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Fodder: Bank  Fodder banks are plantings of high-quality fodder species. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals. They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder bank plants are usually trees or shrubs, and often legumes. The relatively deep roots of these woody perennials allow them to reach soil nutrients and moisture not available to grasses and herbaceous plants.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow early spring in a very well-drained compost in a greenhouse. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Give the plants some protection from winter wet. Make sure you have some reserve plants in case those outdoors do not overwinter. Cuttings of leaf pads at any time in the growing season. Remove a pad from the plant and then leave it in a dry sunny place for a couple of days to ensure that the base is thoroughly dry and has begun to callous. Pot up into a sandy compost. Very easy, rooting quickly.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Cylindropuntia spp.ChollaPerennial2.0 8-12 SLMHSND304
Opuntia compressaEastern Prickly Pear, Prickly Pear CactusPerennial0.2 8-10 FLMND312
Opuntia dilleniiDillen prickly pear, Perennial1.0 10-12 MLMNDM303
Opuntia erinaceaMojave Prickly PearPerennial0.5 8-11  LMND202
Opuntia fragilisPrickly Pear, Brittle pricklypearPerennial0.1 7-10  LMND212
Opuntia howeyi Perennial0.0 -  LMND202
Opuntia imbricataTree CholaPerennial3.0 8-11  LMND202
Opuntia littoralisWestern Prickly PearPerennial0.6 -  LMND202
Opuntia macrorhizaTwist-Spine Prickly PearPerennial0.1 8-11  LMND202
Opuntia microdasysBunny Ears, Angel's-wingsPerennial0.6 7-10  LMND202
Opuntia phaeacanthaBastard Fig, Tulip pricklypearPerennial0.5 8-11  LMND212
Opuntia polyacanthaPlains Prickly Pear, El Paso pricklypear, Grizzlybear pricklypear, Navajo Bridge pricklypear, HairspPerennial0.2 3-7  LMND312
Opuntia ramosissimaBranched Pencil ChollaPerennial0.6 7-10  LMND302
Opuntia tomentosaVelvet prickly pear, Woollyjoint PricklypearPerennial4.5 9-12 MLMNDM303

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Readers comment

barb   Mon Aug 30 22:23:08 2004

Can you tell me if there are any known side effects or adverse reactions to taking the capsule of cactus for fibre and also the desired side effects. Thank you

Lee   Fri Feb 16 2007

Is it possible to grow this plant indoors? I would like to grow some for my pet Torts.

Ken Fern, Plants for a Future   Sun Feb 18 2007

Yes Lee, it is possible to grow this plant indoors in a pot. Being a cactus, it will require a very well-drained soil with plenty of sharp sand in it - you can either make up your own mixture or buy special potting compost for cacti from a garden centre. The plants will require a very sunny position - a south or southwest facing window would be best. You will also have to be very careful with watering, especially in the winter when the soil should be kept almost (but not totally) dry. There is one point to be aware of, however. Opuntias have very aggressive 'hairs' called glochids, which have barbed points. If you should rub up against the plant then these glochids can easily embed themselves in the skin and cause quite an intense irritation. Therefore be sure to put the plants where they are out of reach. I have not heard of tortoises eating these plants - I suppose their tongues and mouths are tough enough to withstand the effects of the glochids!

Vivien Andrews   Sat Dec 8 2007

Vivien-- December, 2007 I jhave been taking a capsule manufactured by Meta Slim which contains opuntia fiscus-indci. Can this have any side effects? I am using it to absorb fats I eat. Does this plant really do this?

d. majalca-williams   Wed Aug 19 2009

I'am a new home owner and have a opuntia ficus-indica. The cactus is close to 20+ ft. it needs to be trimmed, and sure how to do it properly. Your help is greatly appreciated. d. majalca-williams

david (volunteer)   Wed Aug 19 2009

I have quite a bit experience of trimming this plant but am not an expert. It is very tolerent of being pruned, I try to take whole pads off(the oval section) rather than cut pads in half (to reduce the size of the wound), there is a long history of the pads being removed this way for food, also cattle have been allowed to graze on them so you can probably cut them any way you want. I suspect it would be best to do it in dry weather to give the wound time to heal, but I've done it in wet weather here in coolish New Zealand it was fine. Watch out for the tiny irritating spines, gloves best.

Lee   Sat Dec 12 2009

The aboriginal peoples of Southern California would cut the young pads almost to the joint that connects it to the base pad. The pruning stimulated two or more pad to grow around the nearly cut joint done in spring or early summer before they hardened from the baking sun. A book called Tending the Wild speaks on the first nations people throught California and parts of the Northwest and Southwest and their relationship shaping the landscapes into Food Forests, Food Deserts, Food Coasts, Food prairies, etc...

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