There are dozens of species of Prickly Pear that fall under the scientific clasification 'Opuntia'. They produce a tasty edible fruit commonly known as Prickly Pears. There are also many non-native varieties and identification is at times a tad tricky.
They produce leaves that are flat paddle like to cylindrically shaped which in turn produce the edible prickly pears. They bear vibrantly colored flowers from stunning shades of red to bright yellow. Most sub species are somewhat tolerant of cooler climatic conditions than other cactus.
Various varieties differ in shape and size, from some that are almost as big as a tree to others that are suitable for a groundcover. Grown outdoors they fare best in zones 7 to 10, but as a potted plant they can be grown just about anywhere and transported indoors in inclement weather.
Indian Fig Prickly Pear is one of the most common and well known.
Indian Fig Prickly Pear is grown commercially in desert regions for its abundant flushes of sweet prickly pears which are found in markets in the US and Canada. They are sometimes referred to as 'tuna' which is a mutilation of its scientific name 'Opuntia'. The prickly pears are eaten fresh or incorporated into a number of dishes, drinks, candies and preserves.
Seeds should be aged at least a year before making an attempt to germinate them. They should well dried and free of pulp before planting.
They ripen in late Summer and early Fall. When fully mature they are fire engine red and the interior flesh and pulp is a burnt orange. Other varieties are sometimes yellow on the outside and honeydew green on the interior.
Purple Prickly Pears, which includes several varieties, produce a lavender to purple blush on their pads. The blush is known to intensify on some varieties under drought conditions.
The spineless prickly pears is best suited as an ornamental plant outside of its native region. They do not produce well unless conditions are near perfect.
Miniature Prickly Pears are suitable as an edible ground cover as they grow in ground hugging clusters and produce miniature pads and smaller fruits.
Roja pelona has been compared to a kiwi.
Santa Rita Purple Prickly Pear has bluish green pads. Variant shades of purple can be striking at times. Cooler temperatures enhances the purple hue. Used as an edible fruit as well as for its outstanding beauty. The taste is pleasant, mildly sweet.
Naranjona has a sweet honey like flavor and smooth texture.
Cristalina Prickly Pear is a bit bland, something like an under ripe honey dew.
Xoconostle is a Sour Prickly Pear, and best not eaten fresh - unless of course you are one of those folks who like sucking on a lemon. It is used in Mexico in sauces and as a spice.
Juana - is also tart but nearly as tart or sour as Xoconostle. Its seeds are also eaten fresh.
Yellow Platenera is one of my favorites , but its hard to find. It tastes like a cross between bananas and mango.
Amarilla Montesa has a mildly sweet yellow flesh that simultaneously betrays a tad of tartness.