Spineless prickly pear adds beauty, texture
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.
Spineless prickly pear combines well with candy corn cuphea and Mexican bush sage.
Native Georgia Savory creates a contrast with spineless prickly pear.