Opuntia Jicus-indica

This cactus is an important food plant, for the large fleshy fruits are eaten by Man and the stems are fed to cattle. It is native to tropical America, but is cultivated throughout the world. It has, for example, become completely acclimatized to the Mediterranean region. Jointed stems, which may be flattened, and which are called pads, are typical of the whole genus Opuntia. It is said to include as many as 470 species and, next to Mammillaria, is the largest genus of cacti.

Opuntia microdasys Bunny Ears, Golden Opuntia is a very popular and decorative species, native to Mexico. The stem, reaching a height of 1 m (39 in), is composed of numerous flat, oval pads, 15 cm (6 in) long and 10 cm (4 in) wide. They are coloured emerald green. The areoles, up to 2 mm across, are yellowish and felted at first, later brownish. The spines (glochids), growing in thick tufts, are very fine and a nuisance when the plant is being repotted because they catch in the skin. Wear leather gloves when repotting, as the glochids might cause inflammation of the skin. The flowers, measuring nearly 5 cm (2 inch), are golden-yellow with yellow stamens and a whitish style. The globose fruits are coloured red and about 4 cm (1.5 in) across. The seeds are large and dark grey to black.

It is not difficult to grow. It requires a nourishing compost. Water liberally and place in a sunny position in summer. In winter it requires light, dry conditions and a temperature of 5°-8°C (41°-46°F). Propagation from seed is a lengthy process, * so taking cuttings is usually preferable. Detach a joint from the stem and leave it to dry. After about a week or 10 days insert in a pot filled with compost.

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