In Sicily this large-growing, usually thornless cactus is cultivated for its abundant crop of fruit. It's also an aggressive invader of dry, sunny natural areas. Prickly pear is not a native Sicilian plant. However, growing conditions here are so well matched to its needs that this cactus can now be found wild or a garden plant over most of the island. When ripe, the purple or yellowish flesh of the fruit or 'tuna' is edible and sweet, but the small hard seeds that are densely packed in the fruit pulp may be a problem for people with gastrointestinal sensitivity. Besides being eaten raw, Prickly pear fruits are made into jams and jellies, and the Sicilian province of Enna produces a Prickly pear flavored liqueur called 'Ficodi'. Wear gloves when peeling Prickly pear fruits or handle them with tongs or a newspaper to avoid the clusters of tiny, sharp bristles that dot their surface.
Scientific name: Opuntia ficus-indica
Italian common name: Fico d'India
English common name: Prickly pear (India fig)