4.22.2010

Growing Opuntia from Seed



I give you Opuntia ficus-indica: The Prickly Pear


         Actually, what you're seeing here is the fruit of the pricky pear cactus. You can find them at any grocery store that specializes in Mexican produce. The other commonly-sold portion of the cactus is the pad itself, typically used it savory dishes (i.e. nopales). Not that the fruit is particularly sweet... it mostly tastes like the bastard offspring of an aloe and a beet. In any case, you'll need to buy one to get the seeds, so you might as well eat it. Who knows, perhaps the seeds are your secondary goal, perhaps you LOVE the taste of cactus fruit and you're just sprouting seeds as an afterthought. Weirdo. 

Anyway, I will show you what worked for me.


Slice your fruit in half, and scoop out the seedy pith in the middle. The outer flesh is what you eat. Give the seeds a rinse in a strainer/sieve to remove as much of the red, fleshy fruit as possible; this material could become moldy and kill your seedlings. The seeds are small, flat, and brown. 



Scatter your seeds over a fine, fast draining mix like peat amended with vermiculite or sand. Dust the seeds lightly to cover, and provide bottom heat. Opuntias take their sweet-ass time with germination... my first seedlings didn't appear for seven weeks! SEVEN! So be patient, and don't toss the batch too soon. 


It's so cute to see a cactus seedling. One day they'll be tough, mean assholes, but for now, they're just sweet little dicotyledons. Ain't life grand? More updates to come.

16 comments:

  1. They do look so vulnerable now...funny to think how much pain they will be capable of inflicting later!

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  2. Why would you ever want to make more of them, though?

    I mean, I get it, I get it, but it just seems so wrong.

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  3. NOM! I love prickly-pear-flavored stuff.

    They're so cute when they're little. Like baby catfish, they are vulnerable and adorable when young. Then they grow into a four-foot-long, spined monster and start eating everything in sight... well, maybe not that last part, for cactus.
    Those grow wild here. I wonder if I can pinch a fruit this fall. Hmm.

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  4. I am going to start an opuntia army, which I will throw at people who ring the apartment buzzer at 3am, like boiling oil. Cactus warfare!

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  5. That sounds like an excellent idea. XD

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  6. I'm kinda with Mr_Subjunctive on this one. I mean when they're so easy to root from a pad. Not to say that on some cold winter day I won't get bored and end up doing this just to keep myself sane. :0)

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  7. Don't incur the wrath of my cactus army, Mr. BT. :)

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  8. "Why would you ever want to make more of them, though?"

    My. My. My. Absolutely no appreciation for a good prickly pear.

    Prickly pears have been tested and found to produce in excess of 900 tons of sugar to the acre. That's not slouchy for a plant that fends for itself and needs little cultivation.

    Also, good for making cactus wine or beer (colonche). Used in Mexico for water purification, etc. Don't have time to write a book here, but prickly pear offer fabulous opportunities.

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  9. Fail. You're eating the wrong part. It's actually sweet.

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    1. TRUE! The arrows are pointing to the thick inner skin layer that gets thrown out. The center pulp with seeds is the sweet part you eat!

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  10. Can you update us on what these seedlings look like now? I actually tried to grow these outside and they germinated only to be eaten by birds later :(. I will try again next spring unless I get someone who can sell me some of their pads/ seedlings.

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  11. THE REASON that I am sprouting my opuntia cactus from seed is that I was able to come across the rarer ORANGE prickly pear, but had no access to optaining a pad from that same cactus! ~ The orange version is very tasty and to me tops all others in flavor! ~ Seeds take a LOT of patience BUT the upside is that you get to watch your cactus grow from a babe to an adult...if you're young enough to live that long!

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    1. SO TRUE! ~ I was fortunate enough to have found ONE orange prickley pear among all the reds, purples & greens at my local Tampa, Fl oriental market. I found that the orange was indeed the BEST for flavor thus I HAD to sprout the seeds!

      YES, they do take a long while to grow, but it will be worth the effort. ~ I find that the strongest seeds will sprout first and will end up being your best plants. I planted my seeds in June, 2011 and now have a good 30+ plants ranging in size from 1" to 5" in length.
      I transfered the largest ones over to medium sized peat pots filled with Miricle Gro Cactus Soil and water them with rain water about ever 4 days. They are very healthy, dark green and full of little golden needles. In about two more years they should be producing fruit for me! (I hope!)

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  12. You've inspired me to try this with a giant blue optuntia fruit. I'll see how it goes. I don't feel comfortable yanking a pad out of a cactus garden in a public space, but the fruit falls on the ground and rolls into the pedestrian area I figure it's fair game. I must have gotten 100 seeds out of that apple...

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  13. you lightly chew and eat the seed filled inner part, swallowing seeds and all...
    it's a bad call eating the outer skin cause it does taste bad and has little thorns in the dark spots all around it, the part that you are straining tastes great.

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    1. and cutting it in half like the in the picture makes it harder to eat. cut off the top and bottom and the split the skin longways and you can peel the skin off and eat the middle without a problem

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