Named for its pearlike shape and size, this fruit comes from any of several varieties of cactus. Its prickly skin can range in color from green to purplish-red; its soft, porous flesh (scattered with black seeds) from light yellow-green to deep golden. Also called cactus pear, the prickly pear has a melonlike aroma and a sweet but rather bland flavor. It's extremely popular in Central and South America, the Mediterranean countries and southern Africa, and is slowly gaining favor in the United States and England.
Prickly pears are available in during the summer season and the locals can buy them at the markets or from the fruit and vegetables shops. Choose fruit that gives slightly to palm pressure. It should have a deep, even color. Ripen firm prickly pears at room temperature until soft. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to a week. Prickly pears are usually served cold, peeled and sectioned with the seeds removed.
The prickly pear is a very hardy plant that is also very resistant to fire. It grows and spreads quickly and with a vengeance, destroying whatever domestic vegetation is in its' path. In areas of Australia, India and South Africa, the prickly pear is a large threat to the ecological balance. The governments of these countries spend millions of dollars a year to control this "thorny" problem.
The best way to enjoy the prickly pear though, is to hold the fruit down with a fork. Using a sharp knife, cut off both ends of the fruit and make incisions lengthwise down the fruit thus making it easy to peel the fruit with your fingers. (See pictures below)
The aromatic, colorful fruit of the prickly pear is full of small seeds which can be eaten without any problem. The prickly pear is low in calories, is fairly high in proteins and is high in vitamin C. It is usually served with other fruit (banana, cantaloupe, kiwi) or eaten plain with a little lemon juice squeezed on it (and served very cold).
In some very high classed Parisian restaurants the fruit of the prickly pear is mixed in the blender with sugar and lemon, then strained to filter out the pits and frozen. It is served as a dessert with a little rum or vodka to customers with refined palates who seek out rare tastes.
PRICKLY PEARS IN AUSTRALIA
There was a similar problem with the introduction of Prickly Pears into Australia which were brought to decorate gardens. Soon the plants "escaped" and without natural enemies, overran much of the country. To control the Prickly Pears a caterpillar that feeds off the plant was introduced and this successfully brought the numbers down. Scientists had to be careful, however, to choose a caterpillar that would not be harmful to plants and flowers native to Australia.
In Australia, a general term for any flat-stemmed cactus, is PRICKLY PEAR. Australia has no natural occurring cactus.
When Australia was first settled near Sydney in 1788, settlers bought with them several Prickly Pear plants, and some cochineal insects. These had been acquired in Rio de Janeiro, where a cochineal industry flourished. The captain in charge of these initial settlers required cochineal insects and the cactus as their food, in order to produce the red dye for his soldiers� coats. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be likely that the cactus introduced on this occasion was Opuntia inermis, the plant which eventually caused so much economic strife to South East Queensland in particular. In various parts of Australia, several different species of introduced cactus became locally a serious problem. It is not known how Opuntia inermis came to be introduced; it may have been brought in as a botanical curiosity, a pot-plant in fact. We do know that it existed as early as 1839, in New South Wales.
By 1863, the Pear was established in Queensland, sometimes as hedges. In all probability it became a problem, and it was cut down; but Pear does not simply die when cut. Each plant, even individual leaves, or parts of leaves, can readily take root and grow. It can easily survive long periods of desiccation, before taking root.
In 1884, a Brisbane newspaper reported that the Pear was rapidly becoming established in scrub country on the Darling Downs. This refers to the country between Toowoomba and Chinchilla generally. By 1900, some 40 400 square km of country were affected. Following on from the great drought in 1902 the spread became more rapid.
The reason was that, natural grasses being scarce, starving cattle and sheep were being fed on the Pear. Cattle, in particular, thrived on the plant.
Additionally, native animals, notably the crow and Emu fed on the Pear fruit, and spread the seeds in their droppings. As a result, these animals were declared vermin, and a bounty was paid on the heads and eggs.
By 1920, an estimated 234 000 square km were infested. The problem peaked in 1925, by which time 264 000 square km were under the pest. This represents an area 75% of Japan, or 40% of the state of Texas, USA. Many large properties were abandoned.
The common method attempted for control was poisoning, but any reasonable control by the method sometimes cost twenty times the value of the land. As early as 1899, it was realised that some natural means of control was required, but of course, it was unlikely that such a device would occur naturally in Australia.
An 1920, the Australia Commonwealth Government set up an Organisation to investigate potent insect predators in the countries where various pears originated. Ultimately, an insect Cactoblastis was introduced from South America, and the results were spectacular. Eggs from the insect were placed on the pear plants throughout the country. The caterpillars hatched and hungrily fed on the pear, boring deep into the leaves.
The results were immediately apparent. The initial release of the insect was in 1926, and a concentrated general distribution was down in 1928-30. Between 1930 and 1932, a tremendous Cactoblastis population explosion occurred, resulting in the literal collapse of miles of Pear, the insects having reduced the plants to decayed pulp. By 1933, the last great primary stands of Pear were gone from Queensland. Complete control was affected by 1940. Some Pear does, of course, still exist, as do some numbers of the cactoblastis insects. The remaining pear is not considered to be a risk.
PRICKLY PEARS IN MALTA
The Ecological study of the Prickly Pear on Malta indicates:
The Prickly Pear grows on all lithologies on Malta.
The Prickly Pear grows on any soil type on Malta.
The Prickly Pear can not tolerate saline soils resulting from sea spray
near the coast.
Few Prickly Pears grow on the top of hills, probably the result of a lack
of agricultural use of plant in such locations.
Very few Prickly Pears appeared to be "wild". The plants which showed no
signs of cultivation were usually on abandoned terraces, thus indicating they
were origionally cultivated by man.
The spread of the Prickly Pear on Malta is very limited. Where evidence
of spreading was observed, the spreading was no greater than the leaf drop
The Prickly Pear on Malta is well managed and under control.
The observed lack of spread of the Prickly Pear on Malta, when compared to
the problems caused by it's introduction to Australia, is a significant
finding. This finding prompted the development of a number of possible theories
as to why the Prickly Pear is not causing an ecological problem on Malta:
Many of the plants observed were damaged with holes and depressions present in
the pads. At some sites snails were found in these depressions, thus indicating
pestation. However, the species of snail is not capable of producing the
damage, which is more likely to have been caused by hail and frustrated farmers
Clay and Shallow Soils
Although found on all soil types, the Prickly Pear growth is stunted by clay
and shallow soils. Thus the extensive shallow and clay soils of Malta maybe
a limiting factor of the spread of the Prickly Pear.
Different varieties of Prickly Pear
The variety of Prickly Pear found on Malta is the spine less variety which
could possibly spread less aggressively than the varieties found in
The Prickly Pear seedlings are very weak in comparison to the hardy adult
plants, requiring good conditions for the growth of seedlings. Thus the
susceptibility of the seedlings may limit the spread of the plant where
conditions do not favour growth.
Lack of Fauna
The distinct lack of birds and other animals on Malta could limit the spread of
the Prickly Pear through the lack of such animals feeding on the fruit and then
dispersing the seeds.
The Prickly Pear is cultivated on Malta mainly to provide cheap windbreaks to
protect the crops and soil. Therefore the Prickly Pear is mostly found on
agricultural terraces where any unwanted spread of the plant is removed by
farmers who need the land to grow crops.
The Prickly Pear on Malta is an alien invader but it is thought to have been
present in the landscape for hundreds of years, thus being an Archeophyte. The
general feeling of people on Malta is that the Prickly Pear is a natural part
of the landscape. The Prickly Pear is well established in the ecology of the
island, with it's architecture providing shelter for insects and lizards, and it
seems not to pose any threat to native species. Overall this study shows that
the introduction of an alien species can be disasterous in one part of the
world but beneficial in another.
HOW TO PEEL A PRICKLY PEAR
and maintained by Frank L Scicluna- Adelaide - Australia
Launched on the 7 April, 1999
Updated Periodically - Please, visit this site often.