Monday, October 16, 2006

Cactus of the Week

This week, we're starting a new feature series here at brinki-dink...Cactus of the week! Introducing... The Prickly Pear!

I'm starting with the Prickly Pear cactus (also known as the Nopal cactus) because it's my favorite. Why, do you ask, am I so smitten with this cactus?

Funny you should ask. The Prickly Pear is a beautiful, varied, and also quite practical cactus. Unlike many cacti, Prickly Pears have branches (or pads) that are fleshy and round like a pancake. The young pads can be harvested, skinned, sliced in strips and boiled. The strips are often served with meat or eggs. Nopales also produce a really beautiful purple fruit that is edible as well. Don't try to pick one of these off the top of a cactus with your bare hands though! It's covered in tiny microspines that don't phase animals like the desert tortoise, but which will embed themselves into human skin and hurt like the dickens!

To make Nopal fruit edible drop them into boiling water for a few minutes and squeeze the juicy fruit from the skin. Push the pulp through a cheese cloth to remove any rogue microspines. The juice can be boiled down into syrup and made into jelly.

Engleman's Prickly Pear. This is my favorite of all the Prickly Pears, it's also the most common. I like it because it grows real tall with wide flat pads. This fine specimen was at least 9 or 10 feet tall.

Beaver's Tail Cactus. This one is really common in AZ and can be identified by the nubbly nubbins instead of prickles at the areoles (yes this is the nipple, if you will, of the cactus). Fine hairs cover the pads of this cactus making it a soft and silky to the touch.

Bearded Prickly Pear--not as fuzzy as it looks! This cactus blooms beautiful pale yellow flowers.

A Purple Prickly Pear

All of the cacti featured here can be found living it up at the Arizona Desert Botanical Gardens. These pictures are a little washed out because it was SO SUNNY (go figure!) this weekend when we were there. I definitely recommend this lovely weekend outing to anyone in the area.

1 comment:

123Valerie said...

I had a prickly pear sorbet once and it was delicious, as are you, my dear.