What Does a Nopal Cactus Look Like?

What Does a Nopal Cactus Look Like? image by Personal Collection/c. mcclellan


Nopal cactus is a native cactus and is commonly identified as prickly pear cactus. It grows in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Considered a nuisance by many homeowners, the Nopal cactus grows wild and will pop up just about anywhere. The cactus is edible and has been used as a source of food and medicine since the prehistoric era.


Nopal cactus grows round pads that are flat and have thorns. Green in color, the pads grow one on top of the other. The Spanish term for these pads is nopales. When left to grow, the cactus grows to 15 feet tall. Careful handling of the cactus is important as the outside of the plant has sharp spines or thorns in several places.

Fruit and Flower Identification

Fruit grows on Nopal cactus in a small walnut shape. The fruit grows in the early spring and shows a variety of colors ranging from red to yellow to brown. Flowers bloom on the end of the fruit and when the bloom dies in late spring, the fruit is ready to eat. White-skinned varieties of Nopal cactus are favored among Mexico residents while the juiciest and sweetest fruit has a dark red or purple color.


Special techniques to remove the thorns or spines enable the user to eat the cactus either fresh or cut into strips and used in cooking. Eat Nopal cactus raw, fried, pickled or added to casseroles. Additionally, use cactus in jams, jellies and candy.

Medicinal Value

Nopal cactus is believed has medicinal value as well. The sap, or water, inside the pads are applied to burns or cuts to aid in healing. Pureeing the young pads and consuming is said to be a natural laxative. Eating the plant might aid in controlling blood sugar for diabetics too, several clinical studies have been conducted.

Other Considerations

Nopal cactus is available in health food stores in dehydrated or powder form. Taken daily, it aids in the treatment of stomach ulcers and is used as an antioxidant. The popularity of Nopal cactus has now spread to other countries.

About this Author

Cathy McClellan has five years' experience in newsprint as an assistant editor and is a freelance writer. She has 20 years' experience working in the medical field and is currently licensed as a Texas Insurance Representative. She also has many years in home improvement and gardening.

Photo by: Personal Collection/c. mcclellan

Article provided by eHow Home & Garden | What Does a Nopal Cactus Look Like?