Non-prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) to combat desertification (Willem Van Cotthem)

The spineless (non-prickly) pear (a variety of the Opuntia ficus-indica cactus) is one of the most interesting anti-desertification plants, growing in the driest parts of the world and producing a maximum of biomass with a minimum of water. I can only hope that more and more people and organizations will understand the importance of this plant with edible fruits and leaf-like paddles (the rackets) that can be cut into slices for fodder or dried to grind them into cactus meal.

Drop a paddle or racket somewhere, keep the soil a bit humid for a while (e.g. by putting a cover over the paddle, thus creating a minimal condensation of soil moisture under the cover, or by pouring a bit of water over it from time to time), and roots will be formed, fixing the paddle onto the soil.  New shoots (young paddles) will appear after a short while.  The spineless prickly pear can grow almost anywhere.  So, why wouldn’t we use it to combat desertification?  If the Brazilians have huge plantations of it, why are most of the other nations seemingly not interested?  Forget about the spiny prickly pear and go for the spineless variety of this cactus.

Before having a look at some new photos, please find earlier postings on this blog with descriptions of benefits and comments:

(1) To feed livestock spineless cactus or nothing (Willem Van Cotthem) Posted on August 4, 2010 by willem van cotthem

(2) Opuntia cactus to feed livestock: pro and contra (SciDev / KARI) Posted on August 4, 2010 by willem van cotthem

(3) Combating drought and desertification with Opuntia (Science Alert)Posted on July 29, 2010 by willem van cotthem

(4) Combating desertification with Opuntia: fodder and food for all the drylands (Willem Van Cotthem) Posted on March 20, 2010 by willem van cotthem

(5) Nigeria: FG to Use ‘Cactus Opuntia’ (Google / allAfrica / Daily Trust) Posted on February 12, 2010 by willem van cotthem
Read at : Google Alert – desertification

(6) Success story with Opuntia in Brasil. Posted on November 13, 2006 by willem van cotthem


UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON declared in March 2010 that “Smallholders and rural producers have a vital role to play in overcoming global hunger and poverty“.

Convinced that small-scale production of food and fodder by farmer families is a long-term and sustainable solution for food security and enhancement of the annual income for rural families, I am permanently looking for interesting plant species and varieties that can diversify the diet of these rural people, in particular their children. Offering seeds of nutritious and vitamin rich plants to hungry people, and training them to grow these food crops in their family gardens or school gardens, would be a major step in the direction of alleviating hunger and poverty.

I hope that the following new photos will contribute to a growing attention of many for this remarkable cactus variety: the spineless prickly pear.

2010-09 : A couple of paddles on a flower pot with garden soil: one just dropped on top, the smaller one planted one cm deep (Photo WVC)
2010-09 : Both paddles were broken off a well-growing Opuntia, kept drying for almost a week and then put on the flower pot. (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - One week later the bigger paddle was turned over to see the development of some young roots on the lower part of the paddle where it was in contact with the potting soil (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Rootlets are exclusively produced on the small cushions where normally the spines would be sitting (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - On the small paddle planted upright the rootlets are only formed on the lower edge of the paddle (where it was broken off the original plant). One can easily deduce from this that it is more interesting to lay a paddle simply on the soil and not to plant it uprigjht. (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - A massive spineless Opuntia from Arizona (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - Spineless prickly pear from Himachal Pradesh in India (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - Spineless Opuntia ficus-indica from Northern Algeria (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - Spineless prickly pear from Pakistan (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - Spineless Opuntia from Brazil (Nordeste Province) - (Photo WVC)
2010-03-12 - Spineless Opuntia cactus from Algiers (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Edible Opuntia ficus-indica fruits (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Left: the lower part of the fruit - Right: the upper part of the fruit, where the petals were sitting. (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Lower and upper part of the spineless prickly pear fruit (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Left: cross-section of the fruit - Right: longitudinal section of the fruit (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Longitudinal section of the Opuntia fruit with dispersed seeds in the juicy pulp (Photo WVC)
2010-09 - Cross-section of the Opuntia fruit with many black seeds (Photo WVC)

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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