Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Prickly Pear Cactus is one of my favorite plants. There are about a dozen different species native to the American Southwest. Most varieties are from the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts. This is a detail of one of the prickly pears I have growing in my back yard. I call them jumping cacti because you can't get too close or it'll "jump" out and stab you. You think you're not touching it, but ouch! You've suddenly got one or more stickers in you that will be almost impossible to find, and will drive you crazy until you do get them out. It's not those long spines you see in the picture that get you, but rather one of the many really short stickers in tufts you see at the base of the big spines. Those things are called glochids.
I don't know which variety of prickly pear this is. It may be an Engelmann's. A friend gave me two pads a few years back and they have grown by 4 or 5 more pads each year. I have two of these in pots which I will be planting near some windows in the front yard. The windows are close to the ground and the previous occupants of this house had boxwood or waxleaf ligustrum shrubs growing up against the windows and halfway up the house, I guess as a burglar deterrent. The shrubs were half dead, a real fire hazard so close to the house, and they weren't native plants, so I've been gradually cutting them out so I can replace them with native drought-resistant plants. These prickly pears will make a much better burglar deterrent than those boring old ornamentals.
P.S. The easiest way I've found to get those glochids out of your skin is to make a thick paste of water and baking soda and smear it thickly over the area you've been stuck. The skin absorbs a lot of moisture, swells a bit, and squeezes out the spines. You might have to repeat a few times, but it usually works.