Opuntia ficus-indica may be the most economically important cactus

2006-12-OPUNTIA-01Read at : Dave’s Garden


Opuntia ficus-indica , the Indian fig cactus, may be the most economically important cactus. It is used or has been used for food, medicine, livestock feed, fencing, an ornamental, and an indirect source of dye.

Opuntia ficus-indica is a prickly pear cactus that probably originated in central Mexico, but it has been cultivated for so long that the location of origin and the appearance of the original wild plant is not known.  Before the time of Columbus, the plant had been spread to the Caribbean islands and it is reported that the plant was used by the Nazca in Peru.  Native people used the plant for food, medicine, and as a source of cochineal dye.


The plant is hardy in USDA zones 8b and warmer or Sunset zones 8, 9, 12-24, H1, and H2.  It is very drought tolerant but in the hottest regions, fruit production is best with regular watering.

Opuntia ficus-indica is a useful plant and has been for centuries.  Whether used for food, medicine, cochineal dye, or just an ornamental, it has found a home around the world.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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