The spineless prickly pear (nopales): One of the most useful plants for the drylands

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Prickly pears, also known as nopales for the pads and tunas for the fruit, are truly one of the world’s most amazing plants. They have what seems like a hundred beneficial uses and require next to no additional water or care. In some countries, they go a long way towards feeding the populace with a minimum of cost.

Of the Opuntia genus, they belong to the Cactaceae (or cactus) family. Although native to the Americas, they also flourish in Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East. There are dozens of varieties, and between them all they can survive in a wide range of soils and climates (although they are typically associated with hot, dry areas with poor, well drained soil). They are very drought tolerant and some varieties can even withstand severe freezes.

Both the pads and fruit are delicious and highly nutritious. They can be eaten raw, cooked fresh, pickled, dehydrated, or made into jelly, candy, juice and wine. They also have many other uses,




Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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