Opuntia ficus indica

This immense, branching cactus with a massive trunk grows to fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide. It produces large, oblong pads that are either spineless, or have a few spines. The cup-shaped blossoms appear in late spring to early summer in orange or yellow. Its flowers usually appear along the edge of the pads. After the flowering cycle, rounded, reddish-purple, fleshy fruit appears. The fruit usually has sharp bristles and can be hard to handle, but it is attractive, edible, and delicious, resembling a strawberry. The fruit is eaten by birds and animals and is also used to make jams, jellies, and alcoholic beverages. The Indian fig likes full sun and reflected heat. It also prefers well-draining soil and tolerates drought. During the hot, dry summer, the cactus pads shrivel up when stressed for water. Provide occasional irrigation during drought periods, but do not over-water it. This plant is hardy to fifteen to nineteen degrees Fahrenheit. At maturity, it may get top heavy, so prune it back as needed to shape and thin it out. The Indian fig can be used as a screen, fence, or barrier plant. It can also be used as a large silhouette against a tall wall. Use this plant in attractive containers or as a specimen or backdrop. The origin of the India fig is unclear, but it has naturalized in warmer regions of the United States, including California and Arizona.

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