Nopal (or Tuna ). They are perennial tree plants, characteristics of the Mexican landscape , closely related to the history of this town .


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  • 1 Tuna or Nopal
  • 2 Origin
  • 3 Stem
  • 4 sheets
  • 5 Flowers
  • 6 fruits
  • 7 Producing countries
  • 8 Climate
  • 9 Floor
  • 10 Irrigation in prickly pear
  • 11 Fertilization
  • 12 Propagation
  • 13 Purposes for what is grown and most important species
  • 14 Usual distancing
  • 15 Growth
  • 16 Flowering
  • 17 Type of fruit
  • 18 Type of seed
  • 19 Years to go into production
  • 20 Years shelf life
  • 21 Pruning requirements
  • 22 Most important pests and control
  • 23 Most Important Diseases
  • 24 Weed control
  • 25 Flowering time
  • 26 Harvest time
  • 27 Harvest time
  • 28 Storing the product
  • 29 Industrialization
  • 30 main uses
  • 31 Nutritional composition
  • 32 Source
  • 33 External links

Tuna or Nopal

Synonyms: Many times it is called in its place of origin, prickly pear, prickly pear, nopalitos, in Spain they are called “chumbera” or “fig chumbero”, in France that of “figue de indie”, in the United States it is called ” prickly pear or indian fig ”, in Arabic means prickly, in Argentina “ tuna de Castilla ”, in Chile “ tuna ”, in Germany “ Kactus Feige ”. Nopalitos are the tender cladodes that are consumed mainly in Mexico as a vegetable (Maldonado and Zapién, 1977 ).


The nopales are native to Mexico and are located practically in most of the ecological conditions existing in the Mexican Republic, they form vegetation called Crasicaul scrub, which occupy about three million hectares. The nopales are represented in the insignia of the homeland. They are perennial tree plants, provided with a well defined stem and branched from the base. They can reach up to four or five meters in height and have a long productive life. Its roots are generally deep, fast flush, protecting the soil against erosion.


The stem is cylindrical or discoidal, similar to a tennis racket, called cladiolus, paddle or stalk, almost always fleshy, rarely woody, generally provided with spines that are located in cavities called alveoli, dark green in color.


They have quite small leaves that fall quickly, being replaced by a set of thorns.


The flowers are hermaphroditic, with greenish-yellow sepals and light yellow petals, with a diameter of 7.5 to 10 cm.


The fruit is an ovoidal berry with a juicy and fleshy consistency, 5 to 9 cm long, yellow-green or reddish-green, among other shades, with a coriaceous, bare or prickly, sometimes edible, pericarp.

Producing countries

Mexico, Spain, Portugal , Greece , Italy , Israel , Australia , the United States (California), Peru , Argentina , Colombia and Chile.


The nopal for its optimal development requires an annual temperature between 18 and 25ºC, supporting a maximum temperature of 35ºC. Low temperatures affect the crop, and can cause it to die, so its tolerance to minimum temperatures is in the order of 10 to 0ºC, although certain species can withstand low temperatures of up to 16ºC below zero, provided that these periods are not prolonged. . The nopal grows well in arid and very arid climates with rains in summer . A very important factor that affects the nopal is the relative humidity, as it increases, the plant is in less favorable conditions for its development and fruiting and is more prone to attack by pests and diseases .

In terms of rainfall, it is not very demanding, with 125 mm of rain a year it can live well and can withstand up to 1,300 mm of water a year, it develops well in latitudes ranging from 800 and 2500 meters above the level of the sea (masl), although it can prosper outside this range, it has been reported from the sea level up to 3000 msnm. There are useful species in the stabilization of coastal dunes like O.stricta var. dillenii.


The nopales grow well in volcanic soils, but they also thrive well in loamy calcareous soils: loamy-sandy, loamy-sandy-clay soils and loamy sands and gravelly soils, of medium depth, with preferably alkaline pH between 6.5 to 8.5, and they do not tolerate heavy soils, the best soil is gravel.

The aforementioned requirements for prickly pear are generic and non-limiting, and adult plants with apparent good development can be observed on strongly rocky soils, on thin and poor soils, and on lateritic soils.

It is logical to suppose that on land for agricultural use, prickly pear should thrive much better than in its xerophytic environment, but this practice is not convenient for the following reasons:

The prickly pear evolved to develop in arid zones and the rational use of plant species consists precisely in locating in the lands for which they not only have survival capacity, but also production. Very fertile soils with abundant humidity can be detrimental to prickly pear, reducing its production and resistance to diseases.

In this sense, prickly pear should not replace agricultural cultivation, as far as land is concerned, and it should be provided with a soil where agriculture is no longer profitable. This is the goodness of this species; in obtaining important income in lands where before it was not possible to develop other crops.

Prickly pear irrigation

Although prickly pear is a fruit tree that can tolerate drought without much problem, it responds well to irrigation. The prickly pear can easily hold up to 125mm of water per year minimum.

Excess water can cause root rots and the lack of a dry period can make the plant not flower, lacking the drought stress it needs. Prickly pear plantations in the Mediterranean regions are not irrigated but sometimes irrigation is used during fruit development and flowering only.

When they are plantations for the sale of fruits, drip and gravity irrigation can be used, sometimes in certain countries drip irrigation is expensive. Once the plantation has been carried out, the irrigation should be applied immediately, according to the type of soil, and another irrigation should be applied between 5-15 subsequent days, with which its activity begins; Subsequently, the other irrigations are carried out one for that every two months, stopping watering in rainy seasons, the gravity irrigation system being better if they are in well-defined furrows.


In the Mediterranean, experiments have been carried out on fertigation using Nitrogen – Phosphorous – Potassium (NPK) fertilizers. The production of buds or flower buds is very low, but with the application of NPK, during the winter, production increases in spring. Approximately the fertilizer doses in the cultivation of the adult prickly pear are: 120 kg N, 90 kg P and 160 kg K / ha / year (Duarte, 1999). Cattle manureincreases production, retains moisture and enriches the soil, increasing its fertility and contributing to its restoration and protection, which is why it is also considered a good stabilizer for bare and eroded land. The fertilization in the first year will be from 2 to 4 kg of manure per plant.


The propagation of the prickly pear can be done sexually and asexually, but the second one is used commercially: Seeds, with this type of propagation, despite the fact that germination is fast, the subsequent development of the plant is slow and very susceptible to strong torrential winds and rains, hence it is not highly recommended.

Vegetative, it is done using a penca (palette) or portion thereof. It is fast and effective compared to seed propagation since plant development is safe and resistant to nature factors.

It is also earlier and reproduces exactly the characteristic of the mother plant. The collected stalks, after selection, must be cured and dried, in order to avoid rotting them; For this purpose, they must be scattered on the ground, taking care not to pile them up and keep them under shade for a period of 10 to 15 days, until observing that the wound has fully healed and loses its turgor, checking this when both faces have wrinkles.

It is preferable to select leaves from plants older than 2 years, ovoidal in shape, 25 to 45 cm long, depending on the species. It should be noted that the scar from the union with the mother plant is completely sealed, whole, without damage to the surface and free of insects and fungi . In case of shortage, pieces of stalks can be used, giving each stalk about 2 or 3 pieces.

Most used patterns. It has been tried to make grafts on creeping cactus (Opuntia creeping) with species that have higher yields, another pattern that is known is the frost-resistant cactus cactus since it can resist up to 14 ° C below zero; reason why most of the species and varieties of prickly pear cactus that develop fruits do not withstand low temperatures for prolonged periods. Until now, the effective method of grafting has been that of wedge; a maceration of Opuntia creeping stalks has been used as a cement, duly treated with fungicides to avoid some diseases.

Purposes for what is grown and most important species

The purposes for which it is cultivated and the species cultivated are classified according to the use that is given to the product, since it can be used as human food , forage for livestock and of ornamental value.

Among the wild species are the subgenres of Opuntia, which are: Cylidropuntia and Platyopuntia, other wild species of forage interest are: Opuntia robusta, O. lidheimeri, O. cantabrigiensis, O. rastrera, O. imbricata, O. macrocentra, O . chrysacanta, O. lucens, O. azurea.

Among the fruit-producing species are: <br> Opuntia amyclara, O. megacantha, O. streptacantha, O. ficus indica, O. robusta, O. hyptiacantha.

Among the vegetable-producing species are: The species Opuntia ficus indica, is the one that is commonly used for the production of vegetables, although in general of the other species their shoots are also used for the same purpose. Among the species of ornamental value is, Opuntia microdasys

Usual distancing

It is necessary to select and prepare the land before planting, conditioning it in the best possible way on terraces, edges or contour lines, depending on the slope. In cases of rocky soils, it is advisable to prepare 40 x 40 cm holes. individually for each plant.

The plantations can be in dry land, with irrigation and mixed. It is preferable to use stalks that have completed their dehydration period by planting them vertically or inclined at 45 in order to facilitate their rooting by placing them with the healed wounds down and burying half or 2/3 in the ground. Planting, according to the form of irrigation, will be done in rows, at a distance of 2 meters between plants and plants and 4 meters between rows, requiring 8m² per plant, with a total of 1,250 plants / ha. It should be noted that the distance of the plantation can be variable, depending a lot on the quality, the slope of the terrain and the driving system.


It is a succulent shrub , more than three meters high, with a clear, cylindrical and suber trunk. The growth of the stems is vertical, these are flattened photosynthesizing or cladodes, generally smooth, sometimes slightly prominent in the areolas, green glaucos, of variable shapes, ovate, spatulate, narrowed at the base, elliptical, with the presence of janas or glochidian . New cladodes show true leaves that are small and ephemeral, disappearing when they reach a certain development, which occurs between 30 and 40 days.

The regeneration capacity is almost exclusively linked to the characteristics of the species’ ease of vegetative or agamic multiplication. Thus, in the place where the cladodes or pieces of plant fall, they easily take root and generate new plants. Outside the places where tunnels exist, it is not common to find plants of this species, unless pieces of plants have been scattered occasionally. Despite the fact that the fruit contains numerous seeds, and that it is consumed by numerous birds , there is no history of this type of natural spread.


The flower is produced from the areolas of the upper edge (eventually also of the flat part) of young leaves, generally from the previous year. Each areola usually produces a flower, although not in the same flowering season, since some may bounce in the first year and others in the second, or the third. The flower remains open only for 24 hours. From the formation of the flower bud to the opening of the corolla, it takes about 55 days. The flower is generally hermaphrodite, although in some cases it may be dioecious, the style is cylindrical, and the lobed stigma (5 to 10 lobes), the androceus has a large number of stamens .

The flowers are large, with brightly colored petals: yellow , white , orange, red , salmon pink, depending on the species, the ovary is small, with a single cavity but formed by several carpels, with numerous anthropogenic ovules with very long funicles that When they develop they become fleshy and form the pulp of the fruit , where the seeds are included .


Type of fruit

They are unilocular, poliespermic, fleshy (or pulpy) and edible berries; their dimensions and colorations vary according to the species, being fruits of 4 to 12 cm or more in length, with yellow, orange, red, sour cherry, purple, green or white colors. It is a short-cycle fruit, since its development takes about 120 days from fruit set. The edible part, or pulp, consists of a pseudoparenchyma formed by papillary structures with fonicols that have widened and envelop the ovules.

The fruit develops best in full sun , but can withstand shade that reduces production and lengthens the ripening period. When the flavor of the pulp is sweet they are called prickly pear and when it is acidic xoconostles in Mexico.

Seed type

The seeds are lenticular, with a clear head and wide aryl, curved embryo, large cotyledons and well-developed perisperm. The number of seeds per fruit can vary from 77 to 410, depending on the species, and the size varies from 2.5 to 4 mm.

Years to go into production

Nopal production begins 3 years after planting, using young sprouts as a vegetable, but a crop in full production reaches approximately the fifth year.

Years of shelf life

The longevity of the nopal plantations is 5 to 7 years, sometimes reaching 20 to 25 years with good yields.

Pruning requirements

At the beginning it is about balancing the plant so that it forms a symmetrical body in branches of similar size so that there is a balance. Periodic pruning should be done trying to match the largest number of regrowths with the time when there is a good price on the market, there is a pruning system discovered by the Italians who called it scozzolatura, which consists of chapodar the pallets with machete when There is the flowering, with this, a new regrowth is achieved, which delays the harvest time.

The purpose of pruning is to keep the plant at a height of 1.60-180 m, in addition to eliminating all badly located, aged and unfruitful vegetation. To obtain a good fruiting and fruit quality, it is necessary to carry out the following operations:

  • Flower pruning: prickly pears usually show great flower formation. In order not to exhaust the plants, it is recommended to thin flowers every two years. In practical terms, it has been observed that flower thinning delays production and prolongs the harvest period.
  • Thinning of shoots: along with the flowers appear the shoots, which are the future fruitful shovels. When the shoots are excessive in quantity, it is advisable to thin them when they are tender, leaving two new shovels per old shovel. Unthinned plants tend not to fructify the following year.
  • Fruit thinning: it is recommended to leave between 8 and 10 per palette to obtain fruits of good size and quality (150 to 200 g per fruit).

In practice, farmers consider that this operation is not necessary because the fruit is arranged on the pallet prolonging its petiole and because, since the ripening is staggered, the harvest of the fruit would serve as thinning. However, it is possible that when thinning fruit, it tends to have a more homogeneous maturation.

Major pests and control

Prickly pear plants are attacked by various species of insects , causing deterioration of their normal development and production, one of them is the insect known as cochineal (Dactylopius indica Green), which feeds on sap, which is exploited by man as raw material in obtaining carminic acid. This beneficial pest of prickly pear can be managed through the application of cultural measures (irrigation, fertilization, collection of adult insects), so that the normal growth of the plants is possible and that the insect does not weaken them much.

Another of the pests that affects prickly pear cultivation is the insect known as “prickly pear moth” or “Cactus worm” (Cactoblastis cactorum), the attacked plants have dark spots with exudations or “I cry”. When the attack is severe, the cladodes almost completely rot and fall off. For the control, you can use carbaryl 85% or methidathion 40%, these products must be applied in sprays up to the point of dripping, when they are in the egg state.

There are also the borer weevil (Cactophagus spinulae Gyll.), The spike weevil (Cilindrocoptorus biradiatus Champs.), The nopal white worm (Lanifera cyclades Druce.), The zebra worm (Olycella nephelepsa Dyar.), These pests mainly attack in the larval stage, for which it is important to determine its biological cycle to proceed with its control.

Most important diseases

Another fundamental factor that influences the development of this cactaceous is the disease, among which bacteriosis ( Pseudomonas sp), stain or drying of the stalk (Alternaria sp), cercosporiosis (Cercospora sp) stand out as a form of control. the removal and burning of plants, or part of them that are attacked.

Weed control

Weed control is the same as in any crop, the manual form can be used if there is sufficient labor available in the area and if the prices of the product pay for the use of this resource. Another way to control weeds is the use of mulch between the rows of the crop, and the last way is the use of herbicides, in this case we must use specific herbicides for the weeds that exist and take care of the costs, basically you should choose the herbicide that is most effective and that suits our costs.

Flowering time

Usually, the beginning of budding and flowering occurs at the beginning of the warm season (during the months of March to May in the northern hemisphere ) regardless of the occurrence of rains, although there are regions whose flowering times can be of August to September or November to December , depending on the species or variety.

Harvest time

The harvest season usually occurs between the months of June and August in the northern hemisphere, and it is advisable to harvest with protective gloves to avoid damage to the collector and the fruit, which must be detached just from the insert on the stem, preferably in the morning, taking advantage of the absence of dew and preventing the thorns from causing any damage.

Harvest time

The harvest is carried out depending on what the product is intended for, since if it is for vegetables, the cladodes will be harvested in a tender state, if the fruit is to be eaten ripe, harvest criteria such as color and flavor are taken into account, since these They also depend on the varieties, four basic colors are differentiated: yellow, silver or white fruits, silver with reddish pulp and without thorns and purple pulp. For the mealybug, 3-4 annual collections of adult females are made using brushes

Redeeming estimated per hectare:
The yield of a plantation depends directly on the management received and the age of the plantation.

Product preservation

The fruit is kept in a state of commercialization up to a maximum of 15 days. In Mexico, the export fruit is waxed during its post-harvest period. In experiences carried out in Chile, this fruit has been kept for up to 4-5 months in a refrigerator at 0 ° C, with 90 to 95% humidity. The pulp can also be frozen indefinitely for ice cream making.


The fruit processed through the cooking of the juice until the concentration of the sugars, is a characteristic dark and sweet syrup, called “arrope de tuna”, which is consumed at the family level or sold on a very small scale as a traditional artisanal product. . They also use it in various forms of processing, for making sweets, jellies and jams. Other uses of the species that are elaborated and commercialized in other countries such as Mexico , Italy , Spain , South Africa , Chile , Brazil , among them are: juices, tunas in syrup, glazes, prunes, fruit pulp for the elaboration of ice creams, prickly pear honey, prickly pear cheese, vinegars , seed oils, pectins and adhesives.

It is also industrialized as dehydrated prickly pear, which is marketed in bottles of 90 capsules of 400 mg, which helps to decrease the levels of blood glucose, total cholesterol and triglycerides ; It serves as an adjunct in obesity treatments, helps in cases of constipation, improving the function of the digestive tract and controls the symptoms of diabetes, achieving satisfactory stability of blood sugar and avoiding reaching unwanted levels.

Other times it has been used for its sugar and nitrogen content as an excellent resource to produce alcohol or alcoholic beverages.

Main uses

The current and potential uses of prickly pear are very varied:

  • Vegetables, either fresh or canned, in brine or pickled.
  • Fresh fruit, in desserts, fresh and even alcoholic beverages.
  • Forage (stalks, prickly pears or shells) either directly, scorched, ground or ensiled. The ground seed is used in pigfeed .
  • Sweets (crystallized from tuna stalks or shells, stalk jam, honey, marshmallow and “tuna cheese”).
  • Extraction of prickly pear pectin for making jams and jellies.
  • Extraction of oiland flour from seeds.
  • Prickly pear juice, liquid or powder.
  • Fences or hedges, family gardens, plots and plots.
  • Soil formation and conservation.
  • Fixation of dunes: Home remedies where all parts of the cactus are used, both vegetative and reproductive.
  • Raw material in the industry for the manufacture of cosmetics and toiletries, as well as pharmaceuticals, fructose, pectin, anticorrosives, glues and adhesives, synthetic rubber.
  • Binder or fixer for paint or lime
  • Fuel (firewood).
  • Ornate plant.
  • Water clarifier.
  • Fixer of water-based paint or lime paint.

Nutritional composition

Nutritional composition of prickly pear or prickly pear.


Protein 0.8%

Fat 0.7%

Fiber 0.1%

Minerals 0.1%

Vitamin C 60 mg

Citric acid / 100 gr of fruit.

Pectin 0.19%

Seed & Protein 5%

Fiber 56%

Starch 23%

Oil 5%


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