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Nopalea cochenillifera - (L.) Salm-Dyck

Common Name Cochineal plant.
Family Cactaceae
USDA hardiness 9-11
Known Hazards Species in this genus generally have 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 It is a tropical plant. It needs good sunlight. It needs a temperature above 13°C. It can grow in arid places. Hammocks, fields, sandy soils[270 ].
Range Mesoamerica. Central America - Mexico, Panama. Caribbean - Cuba, Puerto Rica.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Nopalea cochenillifera Cochineal plant.

Nopalea cochenillifera Cochineal plant.
ZSM. wikimedia.org


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Nopalea cochenillifera is an evergreen Shrub growing to 5 m (16ft) by 5 m (16ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay and nutritionally poor soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid, very alkaline and saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Cactus cochenillifer L.; Nopalea coccifera Lem.; Opuntia cochenillifera (L.) Mill.;

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Leaves  Stem
Edible Uses:

Edible Portion: Fruit, Stems (pads). The fruits are edible[46 , 317 , 331 ]. They are also made into candies. The pads can be eaten after the spines are removed. Young joints are pickled. The red, ellipsoid fruit is 3 to 5cm long by 2.5 to 3 cm wide[413 ]. The young flattened stems are cooked and eaten as a vegetable[423 ].

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.

The fruits and cladodes are applied in folk medicine[317 ]. The flattened stem sections are used as poultices to treat mycoses (fungal skin infections) and fevers[46 , 348 ]. The roasted branches are sliced and applied as a poultice to relieve pain, swelling, and localized burning sensations resulting from filaria[348 ]. The grated stem, mixed with corn meal and soft grease, is warmed for external application to relieve heavy chest colds and fever associated with pneumonia[348 ]. The pads are warmed and placed on the forehead as a refresher[348 ]. The sap of the plant is used in the treatment of baby's colds and wheezing[348 ]. The leaves are used in the treatment of spleen problems[348 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

The Bookshop: Edible Plant Books

Our Latest books on Perennial Plants For Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens in paperback or digital formats.

Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
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Food Forest Plants for Hotter Conditions: 250+ Plants For Tropical Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.
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Plants for Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests & Permaculture Gardens.

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Other Uses


Agroforestry Uses: The plant is an important hedge plant in arid areas[317 ]. Other Uses: The flattened stem sections are used as a shampoo for fine, delicate hair[348 ]. It is also a host for the chocineal insect which produces a red dye colouring for food and drinks. Carbon Farming - Agroforestry Services: living fence. Fodder: bank, insect.

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Fodder: Bank  Fodder: Insect  Regional Crop

Nopalea cochenillifera is a shrubby or treelike cactus. Climate: tropical, tropical highlands. Humidity: arid to semi-arid. A plant of arid and semi-arid areas in the tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 1,500 metres, sometimes higher[331 ]. Requires a sunny position[423 ]. Thriving on neglect, the plant can tolerate almost any conditions so long as the soil is well-drained. Established plants are very drought tolerant[46 ]. Carbon Farming - Cultivation: regional crop.

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.
  • Fodder: Insect  Plants grown for useful fodder insects.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees,Edible Shrubs, Woodland Gardening, and Temperate Food Forest Plants. Our new book is Food Forest Plants For Hotter Conditions (Tropical and Sub-Tropical).

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Plant Propagation

Plants can be grown from cuttings. Seed. Prickly pear is easily propagated and the tiniest bit of leaf will take root almost anywhere[413 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Kaktus nopales, Nagphani, Nopales, Prickly pear, Puchikalli, Tay-cui, True Nopal

Native Plant Search

Search over 900 plants ideal for food forests and permaculture gardens. Filter to search native plants to your area. The plants selected are the plants in our book 'Plants For Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens, as well as plants chosen for our forthcoming related books for Tropical/Hot Wet Climates and Mediterranean/Hot Dry Climates. Native Plant Search

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Africa, Asia, Australia, Bahamas, Central America*, Costa Rica, Cuba, East Africa, Fiji, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Hawaii, Himalayas, Honduras, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Jamaica, Lesser Antilles, Marquesas, Mexico, Nigeria, North America, Pacific, Philippines, Puerto Rico, SE Asia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South America, Tanzania, USA, Vietnam, West Africa, West Indies, Zambia

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 : Status: Data Deficient

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

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.


Expert comment


(L.) Salm-Dyck

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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