Opuntia engelmannii

Common Name: Prickly Pear Cactus, Cactus Apple
Oˊodham Names: naw  Audio,  na:k  Audio     Fruit: i:bhai  Audio
Group: Cacti - Desert, Desert Grassland, Madrean Woodland

Opuntia engelmannii is the familiar "Prickly Pear" cactus of the Sonoran Desert. It grows in sandy soils and gravelly soils of alluvial fans, desert hillsides, and the desert grassland at 2500 to around 7000 ft. The 3 to 4 inch wide flowers are brilliant yellow in the morning but fade to orange during the heat of a May day. The large, sweet fruit are eaten or squeezed to extract juice for drinking and for making a purple dye. They are also a favorite food of Javelinas, rodents, and birds. Also see Opuntia santa-rita and Opuntia chlorotica.

Prickly pears in general are an important traditional food source. Both the pads (Na:k) and fruit (I:bhai) are edible. The Na:k are best harvested when they are young since they are tender and lower in oxalic acid, which can be toxic in large quantities. Prickly pear pads contain gummy fibers, also known as mucilage, which slow down the absorption and digestion of sugars. I:bhai can be harvested July through September. They are an excellent source of water and calcium and are rich in soluble pectins which slow down the release of sugar. Prickly pear fruit can be eaten fresh, sun-dried or made into syrup.

Opuntia engelmannii
Opuntia engelmannii
flower buds (May)
fruit (July)
vegetative buds
old flower
growing in a tree

Kingdom Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Subclass Caryophyllidae
Order Caryophyllales
Family Cactaceae - Cactus family
Genus Opuntia Mill. - pricklypear
Species Opuntia engelmannii Salm-Dyck ex Engelm. - cactus apple
More Information
USDA Plant Profile and Map

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