General Review of Opuntias in India


Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), commonly known as prickly pear, belongs to the family Cactaceae. In
local parlence, cactus is called nagphani or danda thohar. In Tamil nadu, it is commonly known as
chapathi balli. Family Cactaceae is reported to contain about 130 genera and nearly 1500 species, which
were originally native to the New World. Cacti have a special carbon dioxide fixation pathway, known as
Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) and are ideally suited to water-scarce dry zones of the world as an
alternate source of food and fodder (Wessels, 1988; Mizrahi et al., 1997; Singh and Felker, 1998; Han and
Felker, 1997). Being so water-use efficient, they are highly useful in arid and semiarid environments,
particularly during prolonged dry spells or failure of the monsoon. However, incredible as it may sound,
the cactus is not merely a hardy ornamental plant, as is commonly believed; it is a storehouse of virtues
that have been commercially unexploited so far in India. In addition, certain genera, such as Optuntia and
Nopalea have economically useful plant parts. Different parts of the cactus can be used as fruit and
vegetable for human consumption, fodder for cattle, and raw material for various industries to prepare
plywood, soap, dyes, adhesives and glue, pharmaceutical products for treating blood sugar and various
other disorders, and cosmetics such as shampoo, cream, and body lotions, etc. (Barbera et al., 1995;
Pimienta, 1994). The fruits of domesticated Opuntia cultivars are being sold as a desert fruit in markets of
the USA, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, North Africa, Spain, Italy, and Greece. Similarly, the tender young pads
of Optunia and Nopalea species, known as nopalitos, are extensively used as a fresh green vegetable in
Mexico and Texas. Even its seeds can be used as flavouring agents. Use of cactus pear as a waterproof
paint for homes is also reported (The Hindu, June 27, 2002).