Tuesday, June 30, 2015

2015: A good year for prickly pears in northwest Nevada

Prickly pear cactus with a view in Hidden Valley Regional Park
Prickly pear cactus with a view: from a Hidden Valley slope over Huffaker Hills to Mt. Rose Wilderness/Carson Range
May storms have brought late-season snowfall to the Sierra Nevada and rainfall to northwest Nevada. The Reno-Tahoe area has seen some substantial precipitation during late spring—unusual for the season. This different weather pattern resulted in a flamboyant display of flowering plants. The pictures herein show prickly pear cacti (Opuntia ficus) seen next to trails in Reno's Huffaker Hills and in Hidden Valley Regional Park; southeast of the metropolitan Reno/Sparks area.

The local low-growing variety starts its bloom with pinkish flower buds that open to yellow flowers. The typically paddle-shaped pads are green with medium to long spines.

Prickly pear cactus flower and flower buds
As a frost- and drought-tolerant plant, opuntias make excellent contributions to xeroscaped gardens and parks designed for climate conditions in northern Nevada. The prickly pear cactus is a food plant. Culinary opuntia species have been a staple of the American southwest and Mexican diet for thousands of years. The vegetable-like pads, the salad-enhancing flower petals and the mature fruits—the eponymous prickly pears, also known as tuna—are harvested and eaten. Also, prickly pear species such as Opuntia ficus-indica are plants of many constituents—ingredients—with various pharmacological uses [1].

Prickly pear pads and spines
Spiny pads: prickly pear nopals with spine work
Besides enriching gardens, kitchen tables and apothecary cabinets, productive prickly pear cacti are of interest for bioenergy production. So far in small amounts, Opuntia is used for anaerobic biogas production [2]. If the metabolism of prickly pear plants can be directed to produce lipids or oils rather than mostly carbohydrates, than they have a bioenergy potential for arid regions such as Nevada. Prickly pears require only 20 percent of the water required by traditional crops. Respective research in biochemistry and plant molecular genetics is performed in The Cushman Lab at the University of Nevada-Reno [3,4].

In future, you may encounter prickly pears not only as indivual plants next to your favorite desert trail, but in cultivated communities across an agriculturally expanding desert.  

Keywords: wild opuntia, cultivated opuntia, food source, pharmacology, agronomy, renewable energy, biodiesel, bioengineering.

References  and more to research
[1] Sigma-Aldrich: Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) [http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/life-science/nutrition-research/learning-center/plant-profiler/opuntia-ficus-indica.html]
[2] Bruce Dorminey: Prickley Pear Cactus: Nuisance of Bioenergy Opportunity? Renewable Energy World.Com, Tuesday, June 30, 2015 [www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2014/01/prickly-pear-cactus-nuisance-or-bioenergy-opportunity.html]
[3]  UNR Reserches Sustainable Alternatives to Fossil Fuels. The Nevada Sagebrush. Tuesday, February 4, 2014; page A1.
[4] Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station: Development Of Prickly Pear Cactus As A Low-Water Biofuel/Biomass Feedstock [www.cabnr.unr.edu/research/research_project.aspx?GrantID=705].

3 comments:

Rakkasan EnterpriseZ said...

Plant is opuntia polyacantha ssp. erinacea

Rakkasan EnterpriseZ said...

Plant is opuntia polyacantha ssp. erinacea

Bradford Grimm said...

While walking in this area I may have seen these blooms in 2015. They are amazing! I would like to grow some of these above the rock wall in my backyard.