Opuntia cochenillifera

Opuntia cochenillifera (L.) Mill.

Common Names: Prickly Pear, Scurgeons Needle

Family: Cactaceae

Habit: Opuntia cochenillifera grows as a multi-branched shrub to 6 meters in height.  The main trunk is short and up to 20 cm in diameter.  From the trunk a series of photosynthetic joints (modified branches) arise. The joints are elliptic in shape, to 50 cm in length, 15 cm wide and 1.5 cm thick.  On the joints are areoles set in 5 rows.  The areoles are spineless although a few glochids may be present.

The complete, perfect, actinomorphic flowers are arranged solitarily, developing from areoles along the upper edges of the joints.  The calyx has numerous sepals. The corolla has numerous red petals and inside the perianth are numerous stamens. The calyx, corolla and androecium are fused to form a hypanthium. The ovary is inferior with a single locule and numerous seeds.  The fruit is a red berry.

Habitat: Opuntia cochenillifera grows along the edges of Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Formation –Shrublands (Scrublands) and Human Altered environments such as yards and fields.

Distribution: Opuntia cochenillifera occurs throughout the islands groupings of the Lucayan Archipelago as well as Mexico.  It has spread through the tropical regions of the world.

Medicinal/Cultural/Economic usage: Opuntia cochenillifera is used in the Lucayan Archipelago for various issues associated with circulatory problems (cooling the blood), obstetrics/gynecology (pain after birth), gastrointestinal issues (ring worm), and urinary tract problems (burning).  It is drunk as a tea to treat inflammation (rheumatism, arthritis, and gout) as well as for bathing and as a shampoo.

As with all cacti, Opuntia cochenillifera  is CITES listed.