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Common Name: Plains Prickly Pear
Opuntia polyacantha is a Evergreen Perennial up to 0.15 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
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[
N. America - British Columbia to Oregon and Texas
Dry prairies, sand hills and rocks[
Requires a sandy or very well-drained soil[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 to 7.5[
]. Must be kept fairly dry in winter but likes 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. Plants tolerate considerable neglect.
This species is very cold tolerant and can succeed outdoors in a selected site in many areas of the country[
Fruit - raw or dried for later use[
]. The dried fruit can be mixed into stews or used to thicken soups[
]. The fruit is dry and spiny[
]. It is up to 3cm long[
Young pads are boiled and fried[
]. The large hairs are burnt off, the pads are boiled and the remaining thorns washed off. The pads are then dipped in a syrup made from boiling sweetcorn seeds and then eaten[
Seed - dried, parched and ground into a meal, then added to flour and used in making cakes etc[
The stems are astringent and diuretic[
]. An infusion is used in the treatment of diarrhoea[
]. A poultice of the flesh has been used to treat skin sores, infections, wounds and back aches[
The peeled stems have been used as a mordant in fixing dyes[
A pink to red dye is obtained from the fruit[
A gum is obtained from the stem that can be used as an adhesive[
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.