One would not expect to have a native species of cacti in New England, but the Eastern Prickly Pear is precisely that!
This low growing cactus has wide paddles covered in the requisite spines, large yellow blossoms are followed by a red, edible fruit. In fact, pretty much the entire plant is edible at various stages of growth, all with careful preparation.
Opuntia humifusa provides an important food source for our native bee species and grows well in dry, sandy locations. Eastern Prickly Pear is listed as a species of concern in Massachusetts and so specimens should never be harvested from the wild.
Use: The ripe fruit is edible raw or in jelly. Tender young leaf pads can be cut up and used similar to: string beans, or like okra to thicken soups, or raw in salads. Spines (glochids) need to be removed first!
Source: grown from seed originally from Toadshade Wildflower Farm, New Jersey.
Photo 2 and 3 courtesy of Dan Wilder
Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear)
SIZE AND POT INFORMATION: More details coming in May type: herbaceous perennial sun needs: full sun, part sun/part shade water needs: dry height: 6" plant spacing: 2/sq ft bloom time: June, July bloom color: yellow
Edible parts: Ripe fruit, raw or in jelly. Young leaf pads can be used raw in salad or cooked like green beans. Spines need to be removed first. Endangered in Massachusetts salt tolerant. Some salt exposure should not be fatal to the plant but some leaf burning may still occur. deer resistant (please note that does not mean deer proof)