A Georgia Spineless Eatable Cactus as
A Potential Source of Animal and Human Food

In a YouTube video titled Reconciliation that was published in December, 2020, I described my finding and cooking an unusual species of spineless cactus, and said that I would attempt to propagate it. This cactus had a 6-inch root which penetrated vertically in the woodland soil rather than spread horizontally which is more typical of Georgia prickly-pear cactus that grows in open fields. This species of cactus was also unusual in that it has a thinner than usual pad which is long and pointed like a willow leaf and had prominent veins.

Prominent distinctive features that have thus far been identified are its long tap root, willow-leaf like pad shape, thin profile of the pads, prominent veining, absence of long spines, and ability to grow in a shaded woodland environment.

The root was potted in December and kept indoors where small pads started to sprout from the cut-off leaves and base of the root. When the weather warmed the longest of these pads was two-inches long but weak. Put outside in mid-May after the danger of frost had passed, the pads quickly grew and more pads developed. They also toughened up, but were still more flexible that the usual species of prickly pear.

This plant may have significant economic importance as a feed for both animals and humans that could grow indefinitely once planted in a no-till environment with the high drought tolerance common to most species of cactus. Although now propagating wild, this cactus may have been imported into the region in Pre-Columbian times or later. Native American agricultural practice was quite different from that used today in that corn plants were spaced out and the rows were farther apart with other plants, such as squashes, planted between the rows. This cactus could have thrived in such an shaded environment and allowed greater crop diversity to be obtained from land that was prepared by hoeing, rather than plowing. The cactus pads could have been gathered any time of year and chopping would have served to perpetuate the plants every time the field was prepared.

I have no knowledge that such practices were or are done then or now, but this type of no-till or reduce-tillage double cropping is certainly a possibility with the cactus being chopped for silage after the corn has been harvested and the cactus bits left to regenerate on their own.

It is not uncommon in West Texas for ranchers during times of drought to burn the spines off prickly pear using something a flame thrower to allow their cattle to feed on the water-rich plants.

Investigating the possible use of this plant as a commercial crop is worth investigating as a 4-H project or as a college dissertation or thesis because of its potential economic applications in regions where droughts are increasingly common.

Author's Bio: 

Wm. Hovey Smith is a Professional Geologist and writer who has authored more than 20 books, produced some 900 YouTube videos, is a wild game cook, hunter, and outdoorsman. While now living in his home state of Georgia he has worked throughout North America including northern Mexico and Alaska. His most recent books are “Make Your Own Job: Anytime, Anywhere, At Any Age” and a novel “Until Death Do You Part” which will be released as an audiobook in coming weeks.