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prickly pear cactus
a genus of cacti with flat, succulent, jointed branches. They are erect or prostrate shrubs or, less frequently, trees. Modified buds, or areoles, are distributed along the stems. The areoles have spines and clusters of easily broken bristles, called glochidia. The leaves are small, awl-shaped, and soon deciduous. The flowers are solitary and bisexual. In many species, the fruit is an edible berry. The fruit of O. ficus-indica is called an Indian fig. In contrast to other cacti, the seeds of prickly pears are flat and have a hard coat.
There are more than 200 species of Opuntia, distributed from the Canadian prairies (56° N lat.) to southern Argentina (except for the humid tropical regions). Prickly pears grow in savannas, caatingas, tropical and subtropical deserts and semideserts, and mixed pine and juniper forests. Some species have been acclimatized to the Mediterranean region, Australia, India, and the USSR (the Crimea and the Caucasus). Frost-resistant species can survive temperatures as low as — 10°C.
Prickly pears were among the ancient plants known by the Indians. They are depicted on the state seal of Mexico. The stems, which contain starch, sugar, protein, and vitamin C, can be used as livestock feed. Prickly pears vigorously multiply by means of vegetative propagation.
R. A. UDALOVA