The prickly pear cactus: emblem of Sicily

The prickly pear belongs to the Cactaceae family and represents a succulent plant that can reach up to 5 meters in height. The fruit is fleshy and is generally covered with thorns; the color of the berry can have a yellow-orange, red or white color, with a sweet and pleasant taste.

The botanical name of the prickly pear is Opuntia ficus-indica: this demonination, still current, was qualified by Miller in 1768, but the name probably derives from Christopher Columbus, who in 1493 believed he had landed in India.

The prickly pear is a native plant of Mexico and its importance for Mexicans is such that it embodies the symbol of the country, so much so that it even appears in the flag of the Mexican Republic. It is currently widespread throughout America, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Mediterranean (in particular Sicily).

It was born and it grows in the warm months in places where no other plant would be able to do so; in fact, it prefers arid and dry soils and is often also found among lava rocks.

Today the prickly pear is the emblem and stereotype plant of Sicily, capable of enhancing the most inhospitable corners of our gardens.

It is among the species most resistant to long and hot southern summers, and in addition to producing summer fruit (with particular “care” it also produces them in autumn!).

In May, the blades of the figs are filled with small flowering fruits: it is the first flowering that will bear ripe fruit between July and August.

However, if between May and June the newly born small fruits are dropped (the so-called “scozzolatura”), the plant is urged to a second flowering. In this way, much more succulent prickly pears are obtained in the winter months, in particular from October to December, which in the jargon are called “bastarduni” or “scuzzulati”.

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Francesco D’Auria


II A – Furci Siculo


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