Prickly Pear: Pest or Prize

Even though we grumble and grouse about them, they ain’t going anywhere.  And that’s not for lack of trying.

pricklypear9I am talking about the Prickly Pear Cactus.  They are ubiquitous on vast areas of the southwestern US and northern Mexico.

pricklypear7All true cactus species are native only to the Americas, but have been introduced to other places.

Prickly Pears are also called tuna for the fruit or nopal for the paddle.  Nopal is an Nahuatl word.  Nahuatl was the language of the Aztecs, and several varieties of it are still spoken in central Mexico.

pricklypear6These plants have been around a long time.

pricklypear4This is actually the time of the year when they take center stage and shine with their bright yellow blooms.  We even comment on how pretty they look in the fields.

top12sprayBut as I mentioned, most people try to get rid of Prickly Cactus.

Nine years ago my husband received a government grant to spray 23 acres of cacti with a potent pesticide.  Why does the US government care about cactus?  Because they are water guzzlers in arid area.  Land needs to be cleared of cacti so that crops or grasses for grazing can be grown.

In order to buy and use this spray, he had to take a class and a test for a private pesticide applicator license.

top34sprayerThe spraying was done in the hottest part of the summer.  So it was an uncomfortable job.  But it worked, for a few years. Then other cactus grew, and those fields are filled again with prickly pears.

Nature seems more determined than we are.

pricklypear3Since they are a fact of life here, we choose (most of the time) to enjoy the delicate flowers in the spring and early summer and avoid the thorns.  That means the larger, obvious spikes and the fine hair ones that get embedded into the skin and take a long time to work themselves out.

pricklypear5Some paddles form some interesting shapes, like this heart.

pricklypear8Or fat fingers on hands at the top of this picture.  You might need some imagination for this one.

pricklypear2For such a nuisance, this plant has a delicate, lovely looking flower.

So the question is:  how many are too many?

“A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”
Robert Purvis

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