Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Plant of the Week: Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Many folks are surprised that we have a native cactus in Kentucky and that it is actually quite common pretty much across the state.  I have seen it growing on limestone and sandstone glades, rocky cliffs and outcroppings, open woodland with shallow soil and rocks, and even in the middle of railroad tracks!  Like most cacti, this species has incredibly large, beautiful and showy flowers.  Each flower is about 3 - 4" across and is only open a single day.  However, in a large colony the individual flowering period may last up to a month depending on how many buds are present.  This plant has very shallow, fiborous root system and you can easily establish it by simply breaking off a pad and placing it on the ground such that a part of the pad has constant contact with the soil  It is a relatively fast growing species and the individual 10" long, 7" wide and 1 " thick pads grow quickly and appear bright green at fist but fade to bluish green over time.  You need to be careful when handling these cacti because the large spines are easy to see but the glochids, tiny hairlike bristles that occur in little tufts are barbed and treacherous  This is one of those plants that anyone can grow as long as it is dry and gets full sun.  While it can tolerate a good bit of moisture, it likes it dry, with little soil.  Like most of the prickly pears, the pads, called nopales, and fruit, called tunas, are edible.  The pads are either eaten fresh or cooked and taste like green beans.  Of interesting note regarding the fruits, they are eaten worldwide and in terms of commercial production they have about twice the production of strawberries, avocados, and apricots!  The tunas, when picked ripe in the fall when bright red, are used in making juice, jellies and jams and even butter.  Prickly pear is high in magnesium and Vitamin C.   It is an amazing low calorie food and each fruit generally has a half gram of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 42 calories.  To make jellies or candies, simply cut the fruit in half (handle with tongs to avoid the spines and glochids) in a large kettle and cover with water.  Bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, mash with a potato masher and strain the juice in a cloth bag.  Add a little lemon juice and seal in sterilized jars with paraffin wax and use the juice in your favorite jelly recipe. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! There are a few nice limestone glade spots in my home state of Indiana (southern) that harbor these. They are beautiful in bloom!