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EFN INTRODUCTION. This unique prickly pear cactus was found growing in a front yard in Vineland, New Jersey. It's very different from the small, low-growing prickly pears commonly found growing as far north as Massachusetts. This species (which somewhat resembles Opuntia stricta) grows to about two feet tall, has large flashy pads, and produces medium-sized tasty fruit. It survives winters outdoors here in Zone 7, and may prove to thrive even farther north. The Opuntia genus is notoriously challenging to categorize, as there is wide natural diversity and many species also hybridize easily. Taxonomists really have their hands full with this genus. When we get a positive identification for this species, we will be sure to spread the word.
Whatever it is, the fruit are juicy and delicious, more sour than supermarket prickly pears, lending a welcome complexity to the flavor. If you've never tasted a cactus fruit, the closest comparison is to watermelon. The pads are surely also edible, though we haven't tasted them yet. These cacti are easy to grow from seed, requiring no special treatment. Simply surface sow, then cover with a dusting of soil, and keep watered until they sprout. Once they start fruiting, watch out for the teeny tiny spines (called glochids) which are present on all prickly pears. Wearing cloves, they can be scrubbed off before use, or — so we've been told — burned off!
We're running a long-term breeding project to improve this crop, looking especially for even bigger fruit, fewer seeds, and more cold hardiness, so we urge anyone buying these seeds to sign up to EFN and join this project (www.ExperimentalFarmNetwork.org/project/16) or at the very least keep us posted about how it performs for you.
NOTE: Because we have a limited amount of these seeds and each seed is unique and potentially precious, we do not conduct germination tests (which would require sacrificing hundreds of seeds) on breeding mixes like this one. But these seeds were collected in 2018 and processed following our typical best practices. If buyers are unsatisfied, please contact us.