Opuntia robusta. What a beautiful plant. These pads are monsters, thick and heavy, and the fruits really round and large. Luther Burbank, who cultivated a spineless variety, said that he would talk to his plants “to create a vibration of love,” and would tell them, “You don’t need your defensive thorns. I will protect you.”
We processed 5 quarts of prickly pear juice this week-end, using the fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica, a relatively spineless variety. The Opuntia ficus-indica still has plenty of those pesky glochids, what one writer aptly calls peach-fuzz barbed-wires. Glochids are not dangerous, just annoying, but you don’t want to get any lodged in your mouth. The apricot-colored juice is extraordinarily healthful and delicious. It’s not juice really, but nectar, thick and rich and luscious.
In North County San Diego, the cactus fruits, or tunas, are perfect right now for picking and processing. September is Month of the Tuna Ripening. I love all the prickly pear tunas, but I have to confess that I especially love the ones that are easier to harvest. I use tongs and True Blue gloves from World Market. Tunas are now being marketed as a superfruit, which they indeed are, with a long list of medicinal qualities. A great site with recent medical research is Natalie McGee’s Arizona Cactus Ranch website, where you can purchase organic prickly pear juice as well. Some scientists believe that it may prove to be a significant breakthrough in cancer prevention. Prickly pear juice already is being used successfully to help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Prickly pear plants are fire retardant as well, because as succulents they retain a great deal of water in their pads. They’re great to plant on the perimeters of homes in the back country. In the last few years, I’ve planted several of Burbank’s spineless Opuntias in my backyard, and Opuntia ficus-indica plants around the perimeter as well.
The image on the left is Frida Kahlo’s preparatory drawing of horticulturalist Luther Burbank. In the painting on the right, Burbank, who devoted his life to cultivating hybrids, is depicted as a hybrid himself, growing from a rooted tree and holding five enormous leaves of a philodendron, a plant native to Mexico. When Kahlo first exhibited in the painting in 1938, it was titled Burbank—American Fruit Maker.
Above is another Kahlo painting titled Cactus Fruits, 1938. I used to teach a class—Contemporary Women Artists—so all my Frida Kahlo books are stashed in my office at CSUSM. I don’t remember this painting, and I want to read more about it.