Monday, May 26, 2014

Devils Tongue, Eastern Prickly Pear

My journey as a plantsman and a nurseryman has taken many turns over the years. Most may not understand this next statement but most of the plants I grow I did not choose but rather they chose me. Many times I have ended up coming home with cuttings or seed of something completely different than what I intended and I still grow some of them to this day. 

The mention of Cactus can cause some to think of vampires, misery, pain even alien abductions. I have heard countless stories from people that fell into or onto a Cactus from a window, bicycle or while hiking the Grand Canyon. I have met and corresponded with many wonderful people all over the United States even the world that I never would have if I did not have the desire to grow and offer these interesting plants. I am growing several species from across the United States that are cold hardy for our winters in North Carolina. But our most common native  Cactus of the eastern USA Opuntia humifusa or Eastern prickly pear or Devils tongue is a very good landscape plant.And it is not quiet as fierce as it's sisters. Cactus are remarkable plants, alien in most respects to other flora. They have adapted to dry places, some with varying temperatures from winter to summer. Eastern prickly pear can be found growing on south to western facing slopes on rocky, sandy soils that drain quickly, it rarely reaches a foot high but can reach three feet wide and ancient plants can grow to wider widths. In the absence of leaves enlarged stems called pads carry out photosynthesis . Cactus has replaced leaves with sharpe spins and have small barbs called glochids. Eastern prickly pear does not have as many spines as most of its kin sometimes almost none but do have glochids. Sometimes the smaller things in life are the worst! Eastern prickly pear has beautiful yellow blooms sometimes with red centers that produce juicy edible fruit once they have been debarbed. The flesh of the fruit can be made into syrup or jelly even candy. The pads or stems are edible also. Native Americans had many uses for the plant as a food and as a medicine .

Eastern prickly pear can be used as a ground cover and makes an excellent container plant. They could even be used in a hanging basket. Some specimens pads turn a very attractive reddish winter color when cold weather comes. They are never boring. They prefer well drained soils and a more neutral ph than most of our native plants . They need low nitrogen fertilizers with higher rates of phosphate and potash. Eastern prickly pear is native to almost every eastern state to Montana and even parts of Canada. Some can survive winter temps well below zero F. Just remember the drainage. This is an easy plant to grow and will thrive if you remember a few rules, mainly don't plant it in shade or a mud hole . You can leave on vacation for several days your prickly pear will be there when you return, while your hosta will be dried up or has ended up as deer chow. 

If you would like to visit Eastern prickly pear in it's natural state and are in North Carolina , Rocky Face park near Hiddenite NC in Alexander county is the best place.    I have found a few specimens in some of the surrounding counties of Wilkes and Surry although they are not officially supposed to be there. A champion of drought tolerance, easy care, long lived and beautiful blooms, decorative edible fruit, what is not to like,

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