Opuntia ficus-indica

Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia22 filtered.jpg
Illustration by Eaton in The Cactaceae
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom:Plantae
Clade:Angiosperms
Clade:Eudicots
Order:Caryophyllales
Family:Cactaceae
Genus:Opuntia
Species:
O. ficus-indica
Binomial name
Opuntia ficus-indica
Synonyms[1]
  • Cactus decumanus Willd.
  • Cactus ficus-indica L.
  • Opuntia amyclaea Ten.
  • Opuntia cordobensis Speg.
  • Opuntia decumana (Willd.) Haw.
  • Opuntia gymnocarpa F. A. C. Weber
  • Opuntia hispanica Griffiths
  • Opuntia maxima Mill.
  • Opuntia megacantha Salm-Dyck
  • Opuntia paraguayensis K. Schum.

Opuntia ficus-indica (prickly pear) is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant grown in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world.[2] Likely having originated in Mexico, O. ficus-indica is the most widespread and most commercially important cactus.[1][2] Common English names for the plant and its fruit are Indian fig opuntia, Barbary fig, cactus pear, and spineless cactus, among many.[2] In Mexican Spanish, the plant is called nopal, while the fruit is called tuna, names that may be used in American English as culinary terms.

Fig opuntia is grown primarily as a fruit crop, and also for the vegetable nopales and other uses. Most culinary references to the "prickly pear" are referring to this species. The name "tuna" is also used for the fruit of this cactus, and for Opuntia in general; according to Alexander von Humboldt, it was a word of Taino origin taken into the Spanish language around 1500.[3]

Cacti are good crops for dry areas because they convert water into biomass efficiently. O. ficus-indica, as the most widespread of the long-domesticated cactuses, is as economically important as maize and blue agave in Mexico. Because Opuntia species hybridize easily, the wild origin of O. ficus-indica is likely to have been in Mexico due to the fact that its close genetic relatives are found in central Mexico.[4]

Biology

Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig) flowering
Opuntia ficus-indica flower
Fruit

Opuntia ficus-indica is polyploid, hermaphrodite and autogamous.[5] As Opuntia species grow in semi-arid environments, the main limiting factor in their environment is water. They have developed a number of adaptations to dry conditions, notably succulence.[6]

The perennial shrub Opuntia ficus-indica can grow up to 3-5m height, with thick, succulent and oblong to spatulate stems called cladodes. It has a water-repellent and sun-reflecting waxy epidermis. Cladodes that are 1–2 years old produce flowers, the fruit's colours ranging from pale green to deep red.[5][7]

The plants flower in three distinct colours: white, yellow, and red. The flowers first appear in early May through the early summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the fruits ripen from August through October.[citation needed] The fruits are typically eaten, minus the thick outer skin, after chilling in a refrigerator for a few hours. They have a taste similar to sweet watermelon. The bright red/purple or white/yellowish flesh contains many tiny hard seeds that are usually swallowed, but should be avoided by those who have problems digesting seeds.

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