Opuntia – Prickly Pear or Bunny Ears – have a distinctive look with segmented flat/oval stems dotted on both sides, with spines and flowers appearing along ridge stems in summer.
The stems often grow in pairs and resemble a pair of rabbit ears, hence one of their common names, Bunny Ears!
Their common name may sound cuddly, but they are anything but, needing handling with care.
Some have large, rounded spines, while others have tiny hairs that detach, stick in the skin and can be difficult to remove.
Opuntias are native to deserts, used to hot, dry, sunny conditions, such as the Costa Blanca and Costa Calida.
Their fleshy stems are designed to store water, so able to cope with long periods of drought.
Being drought tolerant doesn’t mean they don’t need watering, as shrivelled leaves are a sign of under-watering.
Grow in free-draining compost in a warm, bright spot, but needs to be shielded from strong, direct sun in summer.
From spring to autumn, water when compost has dried out, allowing any excess to drain away. Stop watering completely for the rest of the year, to encourage flowering.
Feed with a cactus fertiliser, once every two months from spring to early autumn.
There are over 200 species of Opuntia, the most common variety Opuntia microdasys, also known as the polka dot cactus.
Opuntia ficus indica or Indian fig is the edible prickly pear that has yellow or orange flowers, from spring until summer, followed by purple, orange or red fruits which can be used to make syrups, jams or jellies.