Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Though it is common knowledge that prickly pear fruits are edible, the other species that bear edible ones aren’t as widely recognized. Here is a look at some prickly pears as well as some of the others.
The night blooming cereus is most noted for its beautiful flowers that open at night. The other wonderful feature of this plant is its oval, red fruits. About three inches across, their juicy white flesh is very tasty.
Looking at the prickly pear species, these are more common in the western U.S. However, there are ones that occur in the East, and in the Caribbean. In the East, the more commonly eaten species is the devils-tongue (Opuntia humifusa). The fruit is somewhat small, about two inches long and less than an inch across. This species doesn’t have the tiny spines on the fruits as most do. This prickly pear was widely eaten on Bermuda, especially during the 1600’s before British colonists began importing other fruits.
Some of the prickly pears are particularly good fruit sources. Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) goes by the name Indian fig. It has large, purplish or yellowish fruits.
Elephant ear prickly pear (Opuntia tuna) is also known as Indian fig and tuna. This occurs from Mexico to Central America and the Caribbean. This fruit was an important source of food for Cortez and his men in 1519.
Saguaro fruits have long been used by the Native Americans. These are oval, about three inches in length. They ripen in late summer before the rainy season begins. Assuming the fruits aren’t eaten by humans or wildlife, they split open to reveal the red flesh and multitudes of tiny seeds.
The Barbados gooseberry (Pereskia spp.) is very different. Unlike most cacti, it actually has glossy, dark green leaves. Nonetheless this plant is a member of the Cactaceae family. This tropical shrub is also known as lemon vine. Native to the Caribbean, it produces a flavorful yellow fruit. This is made into jams and preserves in the area. Eventually it grows to develop clambering, elongated canes up to twenty feet in length. This plant has clusters of straight spines on the lower stems. In addition, there are two short, curved thorns at the base of each leaf. Up to three inches in length, the leaves are also eaten cooked. The slightly smelly flowers, up to 1˝ inches across, may be pink, yellow, or white. They open at the ends of the canes and on short side branches. The juicy, acid fruit ripens to yellow when it is mature. These are up to ˝ inch across.
Barbed-wire cereus (Acanthocereus tetragonus) is a New World Native. It is native from Texas to South and Central America. Its shiny red fruits are about two inches long. Either oblong or round, they have lots of tiny black seeds embedded in the succulent red flesh. This fruit is eaten raw.
Pleated cereus (Cereus jamacaru) is found in areas of South America. Its large fruits become bright red when ripe. They have white flesh, and are usually consumed raw.
Jambeba (Cereus pernambucensis) is native to South America as well. Its purplish-red fruits are oblong. They split along one side when ripe to reveal the black seeds and edible white pulp.
Lady of the night cactus (Cereus hexagonus) is found in Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Its thick-skinned fruits ripen to red. They have black seeds and white or pink pulp. They’re also eaten raw.