A Prickly Predicament

Last week, I discussed one of my reverse foraging “wins”, my sunchoke patch. Along with my elderberry shrub (Sambucus nigra), the sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) represent my greatest success in bringing the forage to the human, rather than going out into the wild in an attempt to track it down.

This week, I figured I would share the opposite: my continued failure to cultivate my own prickly pear (Opuntia spp.).

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might recall that I tried to grow my own from a kit. When that failed utterly, I adopted a whole grown plant from a plant swap. It looked like it was thriving all summer.

Happy prickly pear putting out new growth
Happy prickly pear putting out new growth

It was so happy, it even produced flowers.

Prickly pear blossom
Prickly pear blossom

Unfortunately I think prickly pears may be self-sterile, meaning you need at least two genetically different specimens in order for pollination to occur. Many plants are like this because it encourages greater genetic diversity. Since I only had the one plant, it never set fruit.

And now that the year has progressed from summer into late fall, with the inconsistent rain and temperatures our region is known for, the prickly pear … well, it’s not looking so good. Like, at all.

Sad prickly pear in the fall
Sad prickly pear in the fall

I don’t know whether this is what normally happens to prickly pears this time of year. The brown flesh, the wrinkled flaccid pads – maybe that is how it prepares for winter? By having less liquid in the pads, it suffers less freeze damage? Perhaps this also helps the prickly pear spread, and everywhere the pads touch the ground they will produce new roots and grow like an additional plant?

Or maybe its location right next to the sunchokes (you can just barely see the prickly pear on the left side of the sunchoke patch in last week’s post) was suboptimal, since the sunchokes reached their full height in September and blocked most of the sun from the prickly pear.

I guess we’ll know for sure next spring, if they pop back to life!

In the meantime, I have a backup plan. Meet my two new prickly pears!

My two new baby prickly pears!
My two new baby prickly pears!

Kits be damned! Turns out germinating prickly pears is as easy as sticking some seeds in pots outside and forgetting about them. Pretty sure they were seeds from my store-bought prickly pear fruit last August. So hopefully, hopefully, I’ll have something more interesting to share about prickly pears next year!

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