Spine­less prickly pear adds beauty, tex­ture

Star-Telegram - - Life & Arts - BY NOR­MAN WIN­TER

One year after re­tir­ing from the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia’s Coastal Ge­or­gia Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia, I find my­self des­per­ately miss­ing cac­tus. I know what you are think­ing, if The Gar­den Guy is writ­ing about cac­tus, we must get our af­fairs and lives to­gether as this is a sure sign of the com­ing apoc­a­lypse.

To be hon­est, a hot new veg­etable gar­den­ing book ti­tled “Grow What You Love” by Emily Mur­phy got me think­ing, not nec­es­sar­ily of veg­eta­bles but all things gar­den­ing. I use to make fun of peo­ple who grew cac­tus and I feel so ashamed now. No doubt those gar­den­ers were grow­ing what they loved. Now don’t get me wrong, my snick­er­ing never left the front seat of the car.

At the botan­i­cal gar­dens, we grew thorn­less prickly pear in our Mediter­ranean Gar­den and the new Sun Gar­den. It of­fers the land­scape an ex­trav­a­ganza of tex­ture with it large pad and sub­se­quent yel­low blooms. I’ve of­ten said all col­ors look bet­ter com­bined with lime green and in the case of prickly pear the look of ev­ery part­ner seems to be en­hanced. It will stand­out as it reaches 3 to 4 feet in height.

We grew it in com­bi­na­tions with dry­land bromeli­ads like Cherry Coke and Sil­ver Nickle, near by were Soap Aloe and Gi­ant Agave. All com­bined for an eye candy feast of tex­ture. Then there were the flower part­ners like Mex­i­can Bush Sage, Candy Corn Cuphea and Ra­gin Ca­jun Ruel­lia, all look­ing quite daz­zling and at home with the cac­tus. One of my fa­vorites was the na­tive Ge­or­gia Sa­vory, not only bloom­ing but also of­fer­ing a con­trast­ing finer leaf tex­ture.

Botan­i­cally speak­ing, the spine­less prickly pear is Opun­tia.

You’ll find Opun­tia el­lisiana, Opun­tia and ca­canapa “El­lisana.” Most agree we can credit the fa­mous hor­ti­cul­tur­ist and breeder Luther Bur­bank with the cre­ation. Note I said most. Va­ri­eties like Grav­ity, Royal, Pro­lific and Mel­rose are his re­leases.

Gener­i­cally speak­ing, how­ever, this cac­tus is cold hardy from zones 6-10. As you might guess, plenty of sun and good drainage are pretty much para­mount to your suc­cess. You eas­ily imag­ine them be­ing easy to grow in Texas and the West, but I as­sure you in Sa­van­nah they were a piece of cake. At Clem­son Univer­sity in South Carolina, Patrick McMil­lan has cre­ated a dis­play of South­west­ern species to show you their wide range of adapt­abil­ity.

The spine­less cac­tus of­fers the culi­nary artist three op­por­tu­ni­ties for the kitchen. The pad of the cac­tus (nopal) can be used like a veg­etable. The pe­tals of flow­ers can be used in sal­ads. The one you might be most fa­mil­iar with is the pear, which can be treated like a fruit.

Grow­ing the spine­less prickly pear will be a most pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence.

NOR­MAN WIN­TER TNS

Spine­less prickly pear com­bines well with candy corn cuphea and Mex­i­can bush sage.

NOR­MAN WIN­TER TNS

Na­tive Ge­or­gia Sa­vory cre­ates a con­trast with spine­less prickly pear.

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