Opuntia tortispina is apparently of hybrid origin. It has intermediate character states from its putative parents, Opuntia macrorhiza (fleshy and spineless fruits) and Opuntia polyacantha (areoles with basal deflexed spines and barrel-shaped fruits).[
Opuntia cymochila Engelm. & J.M.Bigelow
Opuntia mackensenii Rose
Opuntia macrocentra minor M.S.Anthony
Opuntia mesacantha cymochila (Engelm. & J.M.Bigelow) J.M.Coult.
Opuntia rafinesquei cymochila (Engelm. & J.M.Bigelow) Schelle
Opuntia sanguinocula Griffiths
Opuntia tortispina is a low-growing, spiny, evergreen, succulent shrubby cactus with creeping stems; it grows up to 40cm tall, spreading to form clumps[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food.
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[
Central and southern N. America - Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
Grass-lands, pinyon-juniper-oak woodlands, sandy or shaley flats, rocky hills; at elevations from 1,400 - 1,800 metres[
In cultivation, Cactus plants generally will not succeed in moist climates. They usually require a sunny position in a well-drained, circumneutral soil and to be kept more or less dry in the dormant season[
Fruit - raw, cooked or dried for later use[
]. The fleshy fruit is free of spines, or nearly so[
]. The purple-red, oval to broadly ovate, subspheric or short ovoid fruit is around 30mm long and 20 - 25mm in diametr[
]. Be careful of the plants irritant hairs, see the notes above on toxicity.
Stem segments - cooked[
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[
Seed - briefly roasted then ground into a powder[
]. The seeds of Opuntia species can be ground into a powder and used as a gruel or to prepare a kind of atole[
]. Atole is a thick drink that is made with cornmeal (with or without other ground seeds), water, raw sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and is served warm.
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[