What epitomizes February, but the heart shape? And, as a plant nerd, what could be better than a heart-shaped plant? As I strolled through the Matthaei Botanical Garden desert house, I came upon this wonderful heart-shaped cactus. I immediately took a ton of pictures. How amazing is this plant with three hearts stacked on top of each other? It appears as if someone glued them together. It is hard to believe it could grow this way, but here it is. An opuntia for Valentine’s Day is cool!
And what is it? An opuntia or prickly pear cactus. The common name comes from the fact that usually, the fruit it produces is edible. I’ve never eaten one, nor do I plan to. That doesn’t mean it’s not edible or good, just that I’m not adventurous when it comes to trying new things.
Beware of its glochids
Most opuntias have clusters of small, fine, fuzzy-looking spines called glochids. This comes from the word glochidium, which means a “barbed hair of a plant.” Always use gloves when re-potting your opuntia. The glochids easily dislodge from the plant and lodge in the skin. The spines are hard to remove as they are barbed, and from personal experience, I can tell you they are painful. I learned this the hard way from my hardy opuntia outside. (Zone 6a, formerly Zone 5) Actually, a guest at my daughter’s graduation party touched the opuntia and was crying uncontrollably. (Obviously, this was a small child.) I was sure it wasn’t from the cactus, it looked so soft and harmless. So of course, I touched it as well. One magnifying glass, tweezers, and many tears later, the spines were out. Ouch! Boy, did I feel bad. I am very careful not to get anywhere near these plants when working in the garden. This would be a plant not to let the weeds grow through because that is where the weeds would stay, as far as I’m concerned. The flowers are worth it, though.
Not hardy in Michigan
The plant in these pictures is not hardy here in Michigan but is good for a sunny windowsill. It is the Opuntia microdasys and this one is the crested or montrose form. Some common names are bunny ears and polka dot cactus. (Certainly not cuddly like a bunny.) It is native to Arizona and Texas, but opuntias naturally occur from Canada to Southern Argentina.
As I’ve said before, remember to visit your local conservatory. You never know what you will find!
Happy Valentine’s Day!