Spineless Opuntia to Combat Desertification


Introduction: Spineless Opuntia to Combat Desertification

About: Honorary Professor University Ghent

This spineless, edible cactus is a very interesting plant for smallholder farmers in the drylands.  Easy to grow from vegetative paddles, growing with a minimum of water in dry areas.  Can be used to combat desertification, to limit erosion.  A nice food crop (paddles, fruits) and fodder plant for livestock.



    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge
    • Casting Contest

      Casting Contest
    • Woodworking Contest

      Woodworking Contest

    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.




    Here in Arizona the spineless as well as the spined varieties grow all over. However, even the spineless ones have tiny hairlike needles called glocids. Do you know of any varieties that lack glocids as well as the larger spines? If so, where would one get them?

    5 replies

    Yes, even the spineless variety has glochids. These are eliminated by brushing the pads with a small brush under running tap water (I saw this in a YOU TUBE video about "nopales"). As Brazilians and Mexicans (maybe other Central and South American people) are eating tons of nopales, I can't imagine that it is such a difficult action to prepare noipales for consumption. Antway, as a botanist, I will continue to look for spineless opuntia without glochids. That would make this wonderful plant even more precious.

    I plucked a few paddles in Agbodrafo, Togo, to transplant in my garden and didn't realise there were glochids at all (nodules yes, but no spines, big or small).

    True, it's no big deal for us humans to remove the glochids. But what about the animals? You and several others mentioned using nopales for fodder, but wouldn't the glochids irritate an animal's mouth and digestive tract? A friend who lives in a rural area says they're finding coyote scat with nopales seeds and other remnants this time of year, when the fruits are coming ripe, but I wonder if animals eat nopales only when they can find nothing else, or if their mouths and digestive tracts are tough enough to deal with the glochids.

    Thanks for the instructible and for the work you're doing

    I have seen a Brazilians cooperative simply drying the pads, bringing them to a mill where the pads were transformed into "cactus meal" (without eliminating the glochids). That meal was eaten by cows, pigs, goats and sheep, seemingly without any problem. So, i think we are reasoning in a human way ....

    Maybe the animal's mouths are tougher than ours, or maybe they just grin and bear it. At any rate, cows and other ruminants can digest cellulose, which we can't do, thanks to their four-part stomachs.

    My brother and I are making prickly pear juice from the fruits that are coming ripe at this time in Tucson. We learned how to do this from attending a presentation by a young Native woman at the Farmer's Market. I've asked around my Native and Mexican neighbors and found that the method she showed us, with variations, is pretty standard around here among the old timers, although many of the younger ones are more interested in Burger King and Coke.

    We'll be posting an instructible soon.

    Here in Togo, I discovered the spineless type less than a week ago. Actually, that's what led me here, to know more about the plant. A few pictures here: http://ghana-outdoors.blogspot.com/2016/08/not-so-prickly-pears.html.

    Here in the states there are studies that show eating the fruit from the opuntia lowers type 1 and 2 diabetic glucose levels. Being a type one diabetic, this interests me. if i can find a link to the studies i'll try and post it.

    Very interesting. Here in Argentina there are not spineless opuntia, I think.

    The most common opuntia is the named "penca". It has a lot of spines.

    2 replies

    I guess there must be spineless Opuntias in Atgentina too. I found them in almost every country where the spiny one is growing : India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Algeria, ... Seemingly it is a natural modification occuring in nature.

    So chances are there, I'm not very observant. Searching in Google I found that the leaves/stems of the Opuntia are edible, which I completely ignored. They even have therapeutic properties.

    Does anyone remember what happened in Australia when they planted cactus??

    3 replies

    Yes we are overrun by rabbits, foxes, Indian Mynah birds, cane toads, noisy Mynah birds, bindyeyes, feral cats, feral dogs, feral pigs, feral goats, carp, camels, red fire ants, yellow crazy ants, Northern Pacific seastar, wasps and inbreed rednecks!

    I wonder why the spineless variety of the prickly pear, as a natural modification of the spiny species, would not occur in Australia, like it does in so many other countries.

    Sure, but that was the very spiny prickly pear cactus, almost impossible to handle. Things are different with the spineless, edible variety (fodder and food). Why would the Mexicans and Brazilians plant 10.000s of hectares. They love their "nopales" (see picture above).