Edible Wild Plants: Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaeacantha)

Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha)Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha), also known as the Mojave Prickly Pear, is a low-growing, spreading cactus with flat stem segments (pads). The pads are relatively long and broad, and the spines are usually confined to the upper 70% of the pads. Areoles (where the spines originate) usually spread about 3/4-inch apart, and areoles without spines can be seen at the base of each pad. Spines typically long near the top of the pad and shorter lower down; longer spines gray with reddish base, flattened; shorter spines all gray. Glochids absent on the side of the pads. Flowers yellow, usually with red at the base of the petals. Fruit is a fleshy “cactus apple” with a green interior.

Mojave Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha)

Perhaps the most widely distributed prickly pear in the southwestern USA. An erect or sprawling shrub or cactus with fleshy fruit and brown to gray to black spines. The fleshy fruits are enjoyed by humans and wildlife. The fruits juice can be used to make a red dye.

Edible Parts

  • Fruit
  • Seed
  • Stem


One of the most common uses for Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaeacantha) is Gum. A gum is obtained from the stem. It is used as a masticatory or mixed with oil to make candles. The juice of the boiled stem segments is very sticky. It is added to plaster, whitewash etc to make it adhere better to wall.

Fruit – Raw, cooked or dried for later use. Juicy. They can be made into a jelly or baked with sugar, cinnamon etc. The fruit is pear-shaped and up to 8cm x 4cm. The fruits juice can be used to make a red dye.

Seed – Dried, parched and ground into a meal, then added to flour and used in making cakes etc.

Young stems – Cooked. Boiled or roasted, then used like green beans.

Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaeacantha) Recipes

Cactus Creole


  • 2 cups of diced cactus
  • 1 pound of hamburger (cooked and drained)
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 diced jalapeño pepper
  • 6 1/2 ounces of canned shrimp (drained)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Mix all the ingredients together in a pan and cook them over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the cactus turns a deep green. Serve hot over noodles, rice, or potatoes or in pita bread or a folded tortilla. It’s delicious!

Cactus Over Fish


  • 1/2 cup of cooking oil
  • 1 clove of garlic (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 pound of filleted fish
  • 1 cup of diced and boiled cactus
  • 1/2 cup of water (from the boiled cactus)
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • salt to taste


Heat the oil in a frying pan, sauté the garlic until light brown, and then remove the garlic pieces with a slotted spatula or spoon.

Combine the chili powder and flour in a bowl and roll the fish in the mixture. Fry the coated fillets until they’re golden brown and add the water (be careful to prevent spattering—pour in just a bit at a time), reduce the heat and cook the fish for a few minutes longer.

When the fish flakes easily, remove it from the pan and serve it smothered in cactus and topped with sliced egg, lemon juice, and salt.

Where Does Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaeacantha) Grow?

Where Does Tulip Prickly Pear Grow?

How To Identify Tulip Prickly Pear (Opuntia Phaeacantha)


Fibrous, occasionally found with tuberous roots.


Stem segments obovate to nearly round, form chains, blue- green occasionally with purple tint around areoles in winter. (Betacyanin pigments) (3,4,5) Surface is glaucous. Cactus is ascending and trunk less or low and prostrate.

Tulip Prickly Pear Leaves

Elongate conical to 9mm long.

Tulip Prickly Pear Flowers

Yellow sometimes shading to red basally.  It is 6-8 cm long/diameter. Stamens are yellowish or cream colored. Style is pinkish whitish long. Stigmas have 6-10 short lobes.

Tulip Prickly Pear Fruit

Fruits obovate, reddish –purple (wine-colored)  fleshy, smooth, 4-8 cm long and  2-4 cm in diameter. (3,4,5) Persist till winter. Seeds are light tan or grayish irregular discoid.

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