Opuntia phaeacantha piercei Fosberg
Opuntia × occidentalis piercei (Fosberg) Munz
Opuntia engelmannii littoralis Engelm.
Opuntia lindheimeri littoralis (Engelm.) J.M.Coult.
Opuntia × occidentalis littoralis (Engelm.) Parish
Opuntia semispinosa Griffiths
Common Name: Coastal Prickly Pear
Opuntia littoralis is a spiny, evergreen, succulent sprawling to somewhat erect shrubby cactus growing around 30 - 60cm tall and 100cm or more wide[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental, though more commonly it finds its own way into gardens more as a weed.
Opuntia littoralis has a fairly wide range, and is considered a weed in places, so although there are threats to the habitat, these are not considered to be significant enough to warrant a threatened listing. The plant is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2017)[
The plant has numerous minutely barbed glochids - these are barbed spines that are usually small to minute and are very sharp and brittle. The glochids are very easily dislodged when the plant is touched and can penetrate the skin where, because of their barbs, they become stuck and are very difficult to see and remove. They can cause considerable irritation and discomfort[
Opuntia species can contain quite high levels of oxalic acid, especially in older parts of the plant. Perfectly alright in small quantities, foods containing oxalic acid should not be eaten in large amounts since it can lock-up other nutrients in the food, especially calcium, thus causing mineral deficiencies. The oxalic acid content will be reduced if the plant is cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition[
South-western N. America - California, Baja California.
Dry sandy or rocky soils in coastal sage scrub and chaparral; at elevations from near sea level to 400 metres[
Requires a sandy or very well-drained soil[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 to 7.5[
]. 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. Plants tolerate considerable neglect.
This is a highly clonal species and it responds well to any disturbance - it can be very weedy as it covers whole hillsides[
The plant recovers well after fires[
Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use[
]. The juicy, deeply pigmented dark reddish fruit is edible, though with abundant flattened hard seeds[
]. The obovoid, reddish to reddish purple, fleshy fuit is up to 40mm long and 25 - 38mm in diameter[
The tender young stem segments of various species are often cooked as a vegetable[
]. Known as ‘nopals’ in Mexico, where they are a common ingredient in numerous dishes, they can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups, stews and salads. The most commonly used species are Opuntia ficus-indica or Opuntia hyptiacantha (syn Opuntia matudae), although the stems of almost all Opuntia species are edible[
We have no specific information on medicinal uses for this species, but the following notes are likely to apply universally to Opuntia species and other related genera[
The flesh of tender young stem segments can be applied as a poultice to reduce inflammation[
The mucilage and soluble fibre found in the flowers and stem segments have been shown to help control blood-sugar levels associated with adult-onset diabetes[
There is clinical evidence that the soluble fibre in the stem segments helps reduce blood cholesterol levels[
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.