What cacti produce edible fruit or are edible?

farmfreedomJune 5, 2006

What cacti produce edible fruit or are edible? I have heard of pitaya, prickley pear, but what else?

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farmerted361(zone 6 Western NY)

Hi, farmfreedom
Well there are a lot that do, namely the genus Opuntia. Prickly pear cactus, as their commonly called are the most productive cacti grown for fruit. There are others, but none are as prolific in fruiting as Opuntia. The two most known web sites for infomation on cacti are:
There are thousands of others, if you google on the subject of fruiting cacti or other searches like cacti farming, I'm sure you'll find what you need to know.
Question though, in your profile you don't list where you are, in your venture it would be advisable to start this in the Southwest. I was out there last spring turing Arizona, and I saw fields and fields of Prickly pear cactus all in fruit. So there must be money to be made out of farming them.

Good luck, farmerted361:)

    Bookmark   June 5, 2006 at 7:31PM
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john_p_marmaro(z10 Florida)

Hi there

Many cacti of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the Opuntias. One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus, especially H. undatus and H. triangularis, produce edible fruits that have been christened "Dragon Fruits" in SE Asia and China where they have become extremely popular. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in zone 10. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus, P. schottii and P. weberi, known respectively as Senita and Candelabro, also produce edible fruits, those of P. schottii being referred to as "tasty"; these four species are very large. The literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and old, say, 30 years and 10 feet or so. The Arizona Queen of the Night, Peniocereus greggii, and some other species of Peniocereus, P. johnstonii and P.serpentinus, also produce edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit, a number of species being known as "Strawberry Cactus" because of their strawberry (and sometimes raspberry) flavored red or green fruits. The most notable of these are E. engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus, as well as lesser known ones like E. brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. E. engelmannii's flavor has been described as "strawberry and vanilla". Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as "chilitos" (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include M, applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others; -- a related genus is Epithelantha, the fruit of all species of which is also said to be edible and quite like those of the Mammillarias. Similar too is that of Coryphantha robbinsorum and C. recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as "garambulos" which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acid cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good to eat: They include S. fricii ("Pitayo de aguas"), S. griseus ("Pitayo de Mayo"), S. gummosus ("Pitahaya agria", said to be quite sweet but prone to ferment, hence the "agria" [="sour"]), S. pruinosus ("Pitayo de Octubre"), S. montanus ("Pitaya colorada"), S. queretaroensis ("Pitaya de Queretaro"), S. standleyi ("Pita Marismena"), S. stellatus ("Xoconostle"), S. thurberi "Organ Pipe Cactus", "Pitayo Dulce"), and S. treleasi ("Tunillo"). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as "Prickly Apples", the endangered endemic Florida species H. aboriginum, H.simpsonii, H. adscendens, H fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, though the fruits of most Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian H. balsanae. Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, F. histrix ("borrachitos"), and F. latispinus ("pochas") also produce edible fruits, as well as edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berrylike fruits, including C. brevistylis, C. pulquiensis, and C. erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as E. (or T.) atacamensis, E./T. coquimbana and E./T. schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, the Orchid cactus, has one such species, E. anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are those of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata (hence its common name "Barbados gooseberry"); another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact, are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), P. guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are probably many others as well, but these should be enough to go on with!

Sources, besides the net, include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Besides eBay, on which some of these species may be found from time to time, many commercial cactus nurseries carry some of them; most of them may be found at Mesa Garden, though they will be small plants. I have seen large Echinocereus engelmannii or E. stramineus on eBay, as well as large specimens of some of the columnar types listed above. Other recommended nurseries include Arizona Cactus Websales, High Country Gardens, Old Man Cactus, Miles2Go Succulents, Calplants, Cactus Limon and TeeDee Cacti.

Not a lot of info exists about climate zones and such-- pay attention to where the cacti grow naturally. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cacti by Innes & Glass include light and soil requirements as well as flowering periods, but only occasional references to tenderness.

Hope this is food for thought!

John P Marmaro

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 6:55PM
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wow John,
that is quite an informative list, from the little I know, all cacti produce edible fruit, though taste is another subject. Some like rhipsalis act as laxatives......the only one I did not see listed was selenicereus, esp. S. Megalanthus (yellow pitaya). Other than that, very nice list.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 4:29PM
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Wow John, your knowledge of cactus plants is very impressive!

I checked out all of your listings of sources and still can't seem to come up with one for the Beavertail Cactus, "Opuntia Basilaris".

I am trying to create a cactus and succulent garden in my yard and need plants that are zone 5 hardy. I have located a nice yellow flowered variety named "Humifusa", but would also like to have a pink/red flowered one. I would really appreciate any help you could give me. I did find seeds for the Basilaris but would of course prefer a live plant. Surely, there must be one available somewhere....

Thanks for any help you can offer.....Patsy

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 6:03PM
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dufflebag2002(Calif. 91607)

John you are so right, and you response is well written, I enjoyed reading it. We even eat the fruit of Rhipsalis, I would search out what you can eat and what you can't. Most books will not suggest that what is ediable. I always let my boss eat the fruit first before I put it in my mouth and then wait to make sure he swallows it. LOL I can only find that flowers are yellow no suggestion of other colors. It is suggested that it is also used for medicine. I used The Cactus Family by Edward Anderson for this information.
By the way the pads or tunas are ediabe as well and can be purchased in grocery stores. There is a receipe book available. The Cactus and Succulent Society's Cactus Cook Book from the CSSA. Norma

    Bookmark   October 4, 2007 at 1:19AM
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hello Shubies,
if you would like to trade, I'm pretty sure what I have is O. Basilaris. I have a picture of the bloom on my home computer, it is vibrant pink.


I also have O. Engelmannii

    Bookmark   October 4, 2007 at 1:33PM
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john_p_marmaro(z10 Florida)

Hi again all!

Let's see....

Yes, Ethan, you are quite right: technically all cactus fruits are edible. I should have said "palatable" instead of "edible" because as you rightly note, some cactus fruits are tasteless, or dry, or otherwise not very good to eat. Even the tasty ones, too, have to be de-thorned and (in the case of some of the Opuntias) de-glochidified (to coin a word). And of course, my list was anything but exhaustive-- though I tried to mention some of the purportedly tastier fruits. I did not mention any of the Opuntias-- I am no expert on the genus, though not all produce fruits that are good to eat.

Patsy, you might look on eBay... I have seen several species of Opuntia available there with rose to red to pink to purple flowers... including the Santa Rita cactus, which also has the attraction of purplish cladodes (which is the official name, I understand, for the "pads"). On eBay you will find, not only the "beavertail" variety of Opuntia, but also a number of "chollas" (which have cylindrical stem segments), some of which also produce palatable fruits. AND make excellent living fences. (Better than barbed wire!) Also-- Opuntia humifusa is the most common Eastern species of Opuntia, and grows all the way north to Canada and Massachusetts. Many of the desert species will also be cold hardy, but the trick for them will be keeping them from rotting in the wet eastern winters... perhaps they can be grown in raised beds under overhangs where they are shielded from too much rain, and also a tad sheltered, with a south or southeast exposure. Use a lot of grit and coarse sand in the soil in such beds, and have gravel underlying them, or situate them on a slope where water can sink down and run off rather than pool around the plants. Most of the really large cacti like the Saguaro and Cardon will not do in Zone 4. There are, however, some smaller ones that can be grown in this zone with proper care: Pediocactus simpsonii, Escobaria vivipara, Echinocereus viridiflorus, and Escobaria missouriensis, and their varieties, are among the nicest of them. As to Opuntias, there is great variability in flower color in many species, though most have at least a yellow phase. But try these: Opuntia erinacea, only a few varities of which are yellow-flowered, most being rose, pink, salmon, reddish, or orange in color, and as the species is native to mountains in Utah and Colorado it should be adaptable to your locale. Also, as mentioned here, Opuntia basilaris, also with lovely red/cerise/purplish flowers in some varieties (though others are yellow). The Dwarf Cholla, Opuntia (Cornyopuntia) pulchella has lovely purple-pink flowers. The fruits are said to be juicy, so might be edible. The Staghorn cholla Cylindropuntia versicolor, has flowers of many colors, some plants having grape=purple or rose or red or brick red or salmon or even green flowers. Another common cholla, the Tree cholla Cylindropuntia imbricata, has magenta flowers. As the tree cholla lives in Kansas and Oklahoma as well as Colorado it is likely to adapt to your locale. Cylindropuntia leptocaulis ("Desert Christmas Cactus") has fruits the Indians make jam from. Another m,ostly yellow-flowered Opuntia, O. macrorhiza, has palatable fruits. Some varities of this have flowers in colors other than yellow. O. littoralis has bicolor red and yellow flowers, to salmon colored ones, and edible fruits, and a similar species is O. phaeacantha and its several varieties.

Search for the High Country Gardens website, where they sell a good number of cold-tolerant cactus species. You might also try Arizona Cactus Sales, Grigsby Cactus Gardens, Old Man Cactus, and Cacti.com -- as well, as I mentioned, eBay (which will also often include pictures).

Sylvia, a good point-- I noticed that many Rhipsalis have juicy looking berries. Though some are odd colors!

Oh, and I should make a note, I mentioned Cereus repandus in my first posting-- it is more commonly available under the name Cereus peruvianus.

Thanks to all

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 6:54PM
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Thanks a lot! I found your information very interesting and helpful. I certainly will be checking on these sites and plants. Here in our part of the state of Montana,- northwestern - the summers are becoming increasingly hot and dry. Although I don't know of any native cactus except east of the continental divide I believe that most, with a little common sense protection, should do quite well here. I got my start of O.humifusa from a friend that has had them thriving in her yard for several years. They have tasty little tunas. And,they are wonderful and beautiful.
Thanks again

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 9:19PM
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I have often made jelly or preserves from prickly pear cactus fruits (tunas) and everyone loves it, though it takes a good deal of work. My specific choice is what I know as Englemanii linguiformis (Cow's tongue) cactus which has large, long pads that narrow toward the top, and yield larger, darker purple fruits. I'm delighted to know that the yellow barrel cactus fruits are also edible. I've mostly seen these used as landscape plants near commercial enterprises here in El Paso, Tx. If prickly pear cactus jelly is "gourmet", surely barrel cactus jelly would be as rare as truffles.

Here is a link that might be useful: Webshots: Barnchaser

    Bookmark   March 15, 2010 at 2:12PM
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Hi John,
I see you are quite knowledgabe about cactus and I was wondering if I could pick your brain?! I recently purchased a Opuntia basilaris "Santa Rita" as the purple hue on the paddles and yellow flower was irresistable! I know the tuna is edible but I was wondering about the paddles. I also purchased an opuntia rubescens but cant find any information as to whether it is edible (so I may be returning it shortly). If you have any knowledge I'd love to hear it!


    Bookmark   May 10, 2010 at 8:31PM
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I have receipes that you may want just ask.
I gave my son 2 opuntias that were being grown in Israel for the tasty fruit it produces, or course it is a hybid made especially for the fruit so their must be a market for it, they would not use up valuable land space otherwise. Norma

    Bookmark   May 11, 2010 at 7:53PM
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The pads are edible, too. You can boil them and many Mexican markets have jars of it. It is often used in salads.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 6:08PM
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are ALL opuntias edible? I have the o. humifusa in my garden, and it's about to bloom for the first time. i'd love to try the fruit if i know it won't do me in! ;)

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 9:50PM
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I didn't see anyone list Mammillarias...the small fruits taste kind of like watery strawberries. But an excellent list so far!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2011 at 10:19AM
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