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To spread knowledge of how to manage the cactus pear effectively, FAO and ICARDA launched Crop Ecology, Cultivation and Uses of Cactus Pear, a (free) book with updated insights into the plant's genetic resources, physiological traits, soil preferences and vulnerability to pests. The new book also offers tips on how to exploit the plant's culinary qualities as has been done for centuries in its native Mexico and is now a well-entrenched gourmet tradition in Sicily.

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I wonder if it would benefit from growing with Vetiver ... Opuntia an underused resource by the sound of it. What stops it from becoming a major pest as it did in Australia in the 20s, probably my only reservation with its use. Keeping it in check could be a challenge. As could de-spining it for livestock consumption. However tiny the spines are on the Dragon Fruit e.g. they can cause a nasty puncture. That was the problem I found with nopales, having to be so careful not to cook it spine and all.

As I've mentioned before Opuntia is illegal to grow in Qld (LINK) except for one species --Opuntia ficus-indica.[LINK}

That's what I'm growing: Indian Fig Opuntia, Indian Fig, Barbary Fig, Cactus Pear, Spineless Cactus, Prickly Pear, Mission Cactus, Mission Prickly Pear, Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Smooth Prickly Pear, Sweet Prickly Pear, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Tuna Cactus...

(I hope).

Mine is a desultory fruiter but the paddles are edible  with a lemony succulence and while they have 'spines' they aren't at all prick-you-prickly.

I prefer them raw to cooked as they a tad slimy when cooked up --leastways per the Mexican recipes I've tried. But in one state of Mexico they do eat their Napoles raw.

Preparation is easy -- like divesting a large zucchini of its lumps --if it had them..

This Prickly Pear won't harm you if you have an encounter. The fruits are spikily haired and are harmful to the touch, but the rest of the plant is considerate of human flesh.

Compared to Peruvian Apple these are 'benign'.

You can still find feral stands of Prickly Pear -- the nasty kind -- on Moreton Bay beaches -- but I've not come upon a major infestation.

As for a Vetiver partnership -- my experience suggests that this plant needs no special encouragement.  It doesn't grow as fast as the Peruvian Apple but it is more virile than Dragon Fruit. I grow both in my cactus corner.

Prickly Pear jam is to die for. Need tongs to prepare the fruit, there's some way of cutting the spiky bits and peeling them off the fruit. Not done it myself but the jam was worth someone's effort.

Ah, some background has been uncovered --and its fascinating: Luther Burbank (he of the 'Burbank' potato)developed the spineless cactus from Opuntia ficus-indica


Luther Burbank was clearly peeved when the reporter asked for comment on whether his greatest achievement was actually a failure.

At issue was a government pamphlet released a month earlier, at the close of 1907. The topic was the prickly pear cactus, also known as genus Opuntia, also known as Burbank's most profitable plant creation ever. The government experts were envious, Burbank told the reporter, because he had beaten them in developing a fast-growing spineless variety that had ten times the nutritional value of the regular plant.

(RIGHT: Luther Burbank with his spineless cactus. Photo from the Sept. 1908 issue of Overland Monthly)

The spineless cactus was Burbank's moon shot - an odyssey with the goal of creating a hybrid that would be as important to mankind as his namesake potato. Worthless deserts would become valuable pastures and croplands; the fields once used to grow animal fodder like alfalfa could now feed the world's hungry. It was his longest running project (a photograph in the Library of Congress collection shows Burbank tending a cactus seed bed c. 1890) and one that he called "soul-testing." In his authorized Methods and Discoveries book series, he revealed uncharacteristic emotion:


...[T]he work through which this result was achieved constituted in some respects the most arduous and soul-testing experience that I have ever undergone....For five years or more the cactus blooming season was a period of torment to me both day and night. Time and again I have declared from the bottom of my heart that I wished I had never touched the cactus to attempt to remove its spines. Looking back on the experience now, I feel that I would not have courage to renew the experiments were it necessary to go through the same ordeal again."


Burbank declared success in 1907, a year after making a deal for Australian rights to five varieties - a sale he credited for allowing him to build his fine new house - and he published a cactus catalog (a later version can be found here). The improved spineless cactus would mean "a new agricultural era for whole continents," he boasted, and "in importance may be classed with the discovery of a new continent." Most of the public, however, probably already knew of Burbank's latest marvel from magazines and newspaper Sunday sections, which had been churning out gee-whiz photo features for a couple of years. Then came a widely-reprinted speech he delivered at an agricultural convention. Where the catalog offered grandiose visions of desert paradise, his speech read like a salesman's list of can't-refuse bullet points: Yield is 200 tons of food per acre; grows in the very worst conditions; cattle and other animals prefer it to everything else. How many would you like to order, at $2.00 each?

READ more...

Good grief, dirty work at the cross-roads! So did the Australian government buy prickly pear from Burbank - and was it those plants which went feral especially in Queensland? Story I read was it was an escapee from an ornamental garden. Maybe the government didn't want to be involved. Though the timing is different, it was the government which imported Cane Toads.

Friend who was around in those unhappy pre-Cactoblastus days reckoned the prickly pear was so thick you had to chop a hole for a dog to bark.

Indian Fig Opuntia ficus-indica

Originally from Tropical America, it has been cultivated and naturalised in many countries throughout the world. Probably the most widely cultivated cactus in Australia. This is because of its excellent flavoured fruit. It fruits into winter when there is less variety of fresh fruit about. Fruits are occasionally available for sale in the fruit shops.

The pads have very few spines, however there are fine hair-like prickles (called glochids) on the fruit which can often be avoided by cutting the fruit in half and spooning the pulp out. The juvenile pads can be stir-fried like the pads of the true prickly pear, however the prickly pear may have the best flavour. Glochids on the pads may also be a disincentive for the less adventurous (haven't been a problem with the true prickly pear)

There are 5 varieties listed (ref 3), these are-

  • var. alba. Fruits large, oval, white or white faintly streaked yellow or reddish.
  • var. rubra. Fruits oval or somewhat elongated and peduncled, crimson red.
  • var. lutea. Fruits oval, yellow, the sweetest.
  • var. asperma. Fruit oval, yellow.
  • var. pyriformis. Fruit, pear shaped and peduncled, large, 12 cm long or more, yellow streaked or reddish violet. Pulp nankeen yellow, few seeds  . (SOURCE)

'Widely cultivated in Australia' - uh? Not seen them, so who does the cultivating and what do they do with the fruits?

The fruits are sold to market -- mainly to folk of Italian descent --especially in Victoria. There are  PP farms in Glenrowan (Vic) and another in Leppington (NSW) for instance.

However, all cactus are potentially invasive in this country -- just look at its cousin, the snake plant, around the suburbs...and the history.The advantage with Indian Fig is the spinelessness. The ferocity of the Prickly Pear's armor was a major handicap to its control.

And birds will be birds...

Would the cultivation of Indian Fig be useful as a farming tool? Obviously during a drought it would be useful forage for livestock. it is great for controlling erosion but it may displace native species ...but once established it really is out of our control.

Been there/done that.

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GrowVetiver

Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.


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