A fig cactus goes by many names. It is sometimes specified as the Indian fig cactus, cactus pear, prickly pear as well as its scientific classification of “opuntia ficus-indica.”
The plant is named and known for its distinct fruit. The taste is like a cross between a fig and a strawberry. Not all cactus plants grow fruit, the fig cactus is one of those who do. The Pitaya or dragon fruit is another. There are many different species of fig cactus.
Cactus figs are common in many Latin American kitchens such as the Mexican, Panamanian, and Nicaraguan kitchen.
The fruit produced by this plant has been used for everything from jams to brewing alcoholic beverages. The fruit is popular in Mexico and has had periods of popularity in other parts of the world as well. Types of fig cactus also grow in counties around the Mediterranean.
During the early 1900s, many immigrants were coming to America and there was a need to feed these people. Because many of them were Mediterranean immigrants from countries like Italy and Greece, they were familiar with the fig cactus that could be imported up from Mexico. From there, the fig cactus has gone in and out of popularity in the United States. Today, it is still fairly well known and loved.
Care and Climate
Most fig cactus are imported into the United States from South America, as the deserts of Mexico are their native climate and the easiest place to raise them.
However, it is not impossible to raise them in the United States. Cactus plants are well known for their tough nature, making them easy to grow and difficult to kill.
But like any plant, they will have difficulty thriving in any area too different from their native habitat. As a cactus is built to survive the dry, hot terrain of a desert; a home that is too different from that climate could prove difficult for a fig cactus to grow in.
One such example would be areas that are too cold. Individuals in America looking to grow fig cactus for their own use may be limited based on what state they live in. Northern, colder states will not be as hospitable to cactus plants like hotter and drier states.
The cactus must also have access to the right soil. Cactus plants grow in deep, dry soil and their oxygen intake reflects this. Soil that is too different from the soil of the desert will make it hard for the fig cactus to thrive.
But as long as these conditions are met, caring for a cactus is much easier than most plants; they are masters of surviving on their own.
While the cactus itself is very durable, the fruit that it bears is another story. The fruit of the fig cactus must be picked by hand and done so very carefully, as it is a delicate fruit easy to bruise or ruin.
The fruit are protected by small spines (thus the name ‘prickly pear’) while will have to be removed. Once the spines are removed (often by rubbing them on an abrasive surface) they will also have to be peeled and sliced before they can be eaten.