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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

Robust shrub-like succulent. True leaves are absent and their role is taken over by the flattened, disc-shaped branches, called cladodes with or without tufts of strong, sharp spines. Flowers borne on the margins of cladodes, yellow to orange. Fruits oval (image 3), covered in tufts of minute spines, which irritate the skin on contact.
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Miscellaneous Details

"Notes: Naturalized, Native of Tropical America"
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Distribution

Range Description

This species has a long history of use in Mexico, the species was domesticated in pre-historic times, hence its natural range is unknown. The species has been introduced to many countries around the world as an ornamental, for animal fodder and for its fruits for human consumption.
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Worldwide distribution

Native to C America, widely naturalised in warm areas of the world
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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Known from most of tropical America. Introduced into Hawaiian Islands, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida. Because of its widespread cultivated distribution in the New and Old World, the geography and evolutionary origin is uncertain (Anderson 2001).

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Maharashtra: Pune Tamil Nadu: All districts
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W Guangxi, SW Guizhou, SW Sichuan, SE Xizang, Yunnan [of cultivated origin in Mexico ca. 9000 years ago; widely introduced as a hedge or for its edible young joints and fruit; naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions].
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introduced; Ariz., Calif.; Mexico.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Shrubs erect or small trees, 1.5-5 m tall. Trunk (when present) terete. Joints dull green or grayish green, broadly to narrowly obovate, elliptic, or oblong, (20-)25-60 × 7-20 cm, thick. Areoles usually narrowly elliptic, 2-4.5 mm. Spines usually absent, sometimes 1-6 per areole, spreading or deflexed, bristlelike or acicular, 0.3-3.2 cm, basally flattened; glochids yellow, early deciduous. Leaves conic, 3-4 mm, early deciduous. Flowers 5-8 cm in diam. Sepaloids yellow with reddish or green center, broadly ovate or obovate, to 2 cm, margin entire or denticulate, apex truncate or acute, mucronate. Petaloids spreading, yellow to orange, obovate to oblong-obovate, 2.5-3.5 × 1.5-2 cm, margin entire or erose, apex rounded, truncate, mucronate, or emarginate. Filaments yellowish, ca. 6 mm; anthers yellow, 1.2-1.5 mm. Style greenish, ca. 15 mm; stigmas (6-)7-10, cream, 3-4 mm. Fruit yellow, orange, or purplish, 5-10 × 4-9 cm, umbilicus low and concave. Seeds gray or tan, elliptic-orbicular, 4-5 × 3.5-4 mm. Fl. May-Jun.
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Description

Trees, 3-6 m; trunk to 30-45 cm diam. Stem segments green, broadly oblong to ovate to narrowly elliptic, (20-)4-60 × 2-3+ cm, low tuberculate; areoles 7-11 per diagonal row across midstem segment, rhombic to subcircular, 2-4(-5) mm diam.; wool brown. Spines 1-6 per areole, absent or very highly reduced, or in marginal to nearly all areoles, erect to spreading, whitish, tan, or brown, setaceous only or setaceous and subulate, straight to slightly curved, basally angular-flattened, 1-10(-40) mm; 0-2 small bristlelike deflexed spines to 5 mm. Glochids along adaxial margin of areole and small, inconspicuous tuft, yellowish, aging brown, less than 2 mm. Flowers: inner tepals yellow to orange throughout, 25-50 mm; filaments and anthers yellow; style bright red; stigma lobes yellow. Fruits yellow to orange to purple, 50-100 × 40-90 mm, fleshy to ± juicy, glabrous, usually spineless; areoles 45-60, evenly distributed on fruit. Seeds pale tan, subcircular, 4-5 mm diam., warped; girdle protruding to 1 mm. 2n = 88.
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Diagnostic Description

Diagnostic

Habit: Herb
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Synonym

Cactus ficus-indica Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 468. 1753; C. chinensis Roxburgh; Opuntia chinensis (Roxburgh) K. Koch.
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Synonym

Cactus ficus-indica Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 468. 1753; C. opuntia Linnaeus; Opuntia compressa J. F. Macbride; O. vulgaris Miller
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Type Information

Holotype for Opuntia undulata Griffiths
Catalog Number: US 3046448
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): D. Griffiths
Year Collected: 1905
Locality: Aguascalientes, Mexico, North America
  • Holotype: Griffiths, D. 1912. Annual Rep. Missouri Bot. Gard. 22: 32.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Uncertain but probably dry semi-arid shrubland.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Comments: In southern California, species established only where there is deep soil and a little subirrigation; washes in valleys.

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Coastal chaparral, sage scrub, arid uplands, washes, canyons, disturbed sites; 0-300m.
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Hot dry valleys, rocks; 600-2900 m.
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Population Biology

Frequency

Frequent
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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering spring (Apr).
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Life Cycle

Persistence: PERENNIAL, Long-lived

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Opuntia ficus-indica

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Opuntia ficus-indica

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
DD
Data Deficient

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
Arreola, H., Ishiki, M. & Terrazas, T.

Reviewer/s
Goettsch, B.K.

Contributor/s

Justification
The original range and hence the wild population of this species is unknown, therefore its wild status cannot be assessed and is listed as Data Deficient although it is an extremely widespread (as a result of introductions) and abundant (because of cultivation programmes and its invasive characteristics) species.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

Reasons: This is a species known from most of tropical America that has been widely domesticated and introduced as a cactus crop in the New and Old World both historically and recently; as important as corn and tequila agave in the agricultural economy of modern Mexico.

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Population

Population
Given that it is impossible to established which are wild populations, it is impossible to know the species' population size.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
Given that it is impossible to determine which are wild populations, it is not possible to determine the threats to this species, if any.
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Comments: Most cacti subject to horticultural collecting.

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It is an invasive species in many parts of its introduced range and hence occurs in many protected areas.

There are ex situ germplasm living collections of this and other Opuntia species to ensure that the genetic integrity of the species is conserved.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Uses: FOOD, Fruit, Beverage (alcoholic), Folk medicine, Tannin/dye

Production Methods: Cultivated, Wild-harvested

Comments: The fruits are much appreciated in the old and new world. Recently this species has been used as a host plant for mass rearing of the colchineal insect, Dactylopius coccus, for red dye extraction. From 1 ha of prickly pear for red dye production it has been calculated that $15,000.00 can be earned.

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Wikipedia

Opuntia ficus-indica

Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico.[1] Some of the common English names for the plant and its fruit are Indian fig opuntia, barbary fig, cactus pear, spineless cactus, and prickly pear, although this last name has also been applied to other less common Opuntia species.

Growth[edit]

Fig opuntia is grown primarily as a fruit crop, but also for the vegetable nopales and other uses. Most culinary references to the "prickly pear" are referring to this species. The name "tuna" is also used for the fruit of this cactus, and for Opuntia in general; according to Alexander von Humboldt, it was a word of Hispaniola native origin taken into the Spanish language around 1500 CE.[2]

Cacti are good crops for dry areas because they efficiently convert water into biomass. O. ficus-indica, as the most widespread of the long-domesticated cactuses, is as economically important as corn and tequila agave in Mexico today. Because Opuntia species hybridize easily (much like oaks), the wild origin of O. ficus-indica is likely to have been in Mexico due to the fact that its close genetic relatives are found in central Mexico.[3]

Uses[edit]

The coat of arms of Mexico depicts a Mexican golden eagle, perched upon an Opuntia cactus, holding a rattlesnake.
The fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica as sold in Morocco.

The most commercially valuable use for Opuntia ficus-indica today is for the large, sweet fruits, called tunas. Areas with significant tuna-growing cultivation include Mexico, Malta, Spain, Sicily and the coasts of Southern Italy, Greece, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, Chile, Brazil, Turkey, as well as in Eritrea and Ethiopia where the fruit is called beles (Ge'ez: በለስ).[4] In Sicily, where the prickly pear fruit is known as ficudinnia (the Italian name being fico d'India, meaning "Indian fig"), the cactus grows wild and cultivated to heights of 12–16 ft (4–5 m). In Namibia, O. ficus-indica is a common drought-resistant fodder plant.[5]

The plants flower in three distinct colors: white, yellow, and red. The flowers first appear in early May through the early summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the fruit ripen from August through October. The fruit are typically eaten, minus the thick outer skin, after chilling in a refrigerator for a few hours. They have a taste similar to a juicy, extra sweet watermelon. The bright red/purple or white/yellowish flesh contains many tiny hard seeds that are usually swallowed, but should be avoided by those who have problems digesting seeds.

Tuna

Jams and jellies are produced from the fruit, which resemble strawberries and figs in color and flavor.

Mexicans have used Opuntia for thousands of years to make an alcoholic drink called colonche.

The fruit contains vitamin C[6] and was one of the early cures for scurvy.[7]

In the center of Sicily, in the Province of Enna, in a small village named Gagliano Castelferrato, a prickly pear-flavored liqueur is produced called "Ficodi", flavored somewhat like a medicinal/aperitif.

In the early 1900s in the United States, the prickly pear fruit was imported from Mexico and Mediterranean countries to satisfy the growing population of immigrants arriving from Italy and Greece. The fruit lost its popularity during the mid-1950s, but has increased in popularity since the late 1990s, due to the influx of Mexican immigrants.

Recently, the cattle industry of the Southwest United States has begun to cultivate O. ficus-indica as a fresh source of feed for cattle. The cactus is grown both as a feed source and a boundary fence. Cattle avoid the sharp spines of the cactus and do not stray from an area enclosed by it. Native prickly pear growth has been used for over a century to feed them; the spines can be burned off to reduce mouth injury. The cactus pads, on which the cattle feed, are low in dry matter and crude protein, but are useful as a supplement in drought conditions.[8] In addition to the food value, the moisture content virtually eliminates watering the cattle and the human effort in achieving that chore.

Mexican and other southwestern residents eat the young cactus pads (nopales, plural, nopal, singular), usually picked before the spines harden. They are sliced into strips, skinned or unskinned, and fried with eggs and jalapeños, served as a breakfast treat. They have a texture and flavor like string beans.

Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig) flowering in Secunderabad

In Malta, a liqueur called bajtra (the Maltese name for prickly pear) is made from this fruit, which can be found growing wild in most every field. On the island of Saint Helena, the prickly pear also gives its name to locally distilled liqueur, Tungi Spirit.

Other uses include as an ingredient in adobe (to bind and waterproof).[3]

O. ficus-indica (as well as other species in Opuntia and Nopalea) is cultivated in nopalries to serve as a host plant for cochineal insects, which produce desirable red and purple dyes. This practice dates from pre-Columbian times.[9]

The plant is considered a pest species in parts of the Mediterranean Basin due to its ability to spread rapidly beyond the zones where it was originally cultivated. In Hebrew, the plant is referred to as sabres.[10] Kishkashta, a main character on a 1970-80s Israeli children's show, Ma Pit'om, was a large, talking felt puppet of the Opuntia cactus.

The high levels of selenium in Opuntia are comparable to those found in the Brassicaceae[11]

The fruit of O. ficus-indica can cause constipation if consumed with the seeds, without the seeds it is laxative.[12]

A University of South Florida engineering professor and a team of researchers have found that mucilage from the prickly pear cactus works as a natural, nontoxic dispersant for oil spills.[13]

Biogeography[edit]

Recent DNA analysis indicated O. ficus-indica was domesticated from Opuntia species native to central Mexico. The Codex Mendoza, and other early sources, show Opuntia cladodes, as well as cochineal dye (which needs cultivated Opuntia), in Aztec tribute rolls. The plant spread to many parts of the Americas in pre-Columbian times, and since Columbus, have spread to many parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean, where they have become naturalized (and in fact were believed to be native by many). This spread was facilitated by the carrying of nopales on ships to prevent scurvy.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.". USDA GRIN. 
  2. ^ Baron F. H. A. von Humboldt's personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of America tr. 1852 by Ross, Thomasina: "The following are Haytian words, in their real form, which have passed into the Castilian language since the end of the 15th century... Tuna". Quoted in OED 2nd ed.
  3. ^ a b c Griffith, M. P. (2004). "The Origins of an Important Cactus Crop, Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae): New Molecular Evidence" (pdf). American Journal of Botany 91 (11): 1915–1921. doi:10.3732/ajb.91.11.1915. 
  4. ^ "Beles". Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. 2003. 
  5. ^ Rothauge, Axel (25 February 2014). "Staying afloat during a drought". The Namibian. 
  6. ^ Am J Clin Nutr. "Supplementation with cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit decreases oxidative stress in healthy humans: a comparative study with vitamin C". National Center for Biotechnology Information. 
  7. ^ Carl Zimmer (December 10, 2013). "Vitamins’ Old, Old Edge". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Paschal, J. C. "Nutritional Value and Use of Prickly Pear for Beef Cattle". Texas A&M University. 
  9. ^ Kiesling, R. (1999). "Origen, Domesticación y Distribución de Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae)". Journal of the Professional Association for Cactus Development 3: 50–60. 
  10. ^ This led to the popular use of the term Sabra to refer to an Israeli-born Jew, alluding to the fruit and the people alike being tenacious and thorny (rough and masculine) on the outside but sweet and soft (delicate and sensitive) on the inside.
  11. ^ Bañuelos, G. S.; Fakra, S. C., Walse, S. S.; Marcus, M. A.; Yang, S. I.; Pickering, I. J.; Pilon-Smits, E. A.; Freeman, J. L. (January 2011). "Selenium Accumulation, Distribution, and Speciation in Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus: a Drought- and Salt-Tolerant, Selenium-Enriched Nutraceutical Fruit Crop for Biofortified Foods". Plant Physiology 155 (1): 315–327. doi:10.1104/pp.110.162867. PMC 3075757. PMID 21059825. 
  12. ^ Lentini, F.; Venza, F. (2007). "Wild Food Plants of Popular Use in Sicily". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 3 (15). doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-15. PMC 1858679. PMID 17397527. 
  13. ^ University of South Florida. "Cactus a Natural Oil Dispersant". USF News. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, E. F. (2001). The Cactus Family. Portland, OR, USA: Timber Press. 
  • Benson, L. H. (1982). The Cacti of the United States and Canada. Stanford, CA, USA: Stanford University Press. 
  • Donkin, R. (1977). "Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus". Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 67: 1–77. doi:10.2307/1006195. 
  • Griffith, M. P. (2004). "The Origins of an Important Cactus Crop, Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae): New Molecular Evidence" (pdf). American Journal of Botany 91 (11): 1915–1921. doi:10.3732/ajb.91.11.1915. 
  • Kiesling, R. (1999). "Origen, Domesticación y Distribución de Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae)". Journal of the Professional Association for Cactus Development 3: 50–60. 


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Notes

Comments

Opuntia ficus-indica, cultivated nearly worldwide, is presumed to be a native of Mexico, but is definitely known only from cultivation or escapes from cultivation. The species has been used for cattle feed, ornament, and fuel. As human food, the young stem segments, "nopalitos," are eaten as salad or pickled as a vegetable, and the large delicious fruits, "tunas," are enjoyed in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.

This species probably originated through selection by native peoples of Mexico for spineless forms of Opuntia streptacantha (also 2n = 88) to ease the culturing and collection of cochineal scale insects for their red dye. Numerous cultivar names are known.

Naturalized Opuntia ficus-indica (octoploid, spiny morphotype) is known to hybridize in central California with O. phaeacantha (hexaploid), forming a heptaploid with usually intermediate morphology.

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Comments

This species was first introduced to China in 1645.
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