Desert Staples: Prickly Pear

Another botanical sadist you’re bound to get mixed up with in the American Southwest is the flat-lobed prickly pair cactus. While I don’t find encounters with genus Opuntia to be nearly as unpleasant as my encounters with genus Cylindropuntia (a.k.a. cholla), prickly pears will still get you pretty good sometimes.

Contrary to what your eyes might suggest, the worst thing about these cactuses actually isn’t the big conspicuous barbs. Instead, it’s the tiny, hairlike spines called glochidia that cause the most suffering. Look closely at any New Mexican’s hands and you’ll probably be able to find little red bumps. These are places where glochidia have been deposited in the skin but never removed.

I’ve got a few of these bumps myself. Some of them have been around since I was a kid!

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(Today’s photo is courtesy of Natalie Rae Good’s Tumblr.)


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