Opuntia vulgaris (syn. ficus-indica)1
(Originates from Central America)
Qulqualeta (Konsogna), Qulquale (Amharic), Gelhi (Tigrigna), Hadaami (Oromiffa), Prickly pear (English)
O. vulgaris is a dense succulent bush with swollen articulated branches which become woody, or a tree reaching 2-5m. Sometimes it forms impenetrable thickets. The oval flattened stem joints grow one above each other, ear shaped, to 40cm long and bristling with tufts of very sharp spines. These green stems fulfil the function of leaves and manufacture the plant's food. True leaves are small and thin and appear briefly at the tips of very young shoots and soon fall off. The flowers are bright orange-yellow, 6-8cm across, with many sepals, petals and stamens arranged spirally. Flowers develop in rows on the upper edges of young joints almost all year round. The fruits are fleshy and egg shaped but deeply depressed at the top, green, ripening brick-red-yellow-purple. When the fruits are ripe, the spiny skin, with its barbered hairs, slips off leaving sweet edible flesh around the seeds.
Edible part(s), preparation methods and palatability
Fruits are reddish when ripe and eaten raw (removing the outer cover) by children in normal times. But consumed by everybody during food shortage periods. The fruits are also covered with sharp and thin spines.
In Daro Lebu wereda, West Haraghe, particularly in the remote lowlands of Daro Abona, people are collecting and consuming available fruits from O. ficus-indica that is widespread all over the lowlands, during the dry season. Children and women collect the ripe fruits with a long wooden stick that has a large nail at its end (see picture). The fruit is pierced by the nail and torn off. It is then rubbed on the ground to remove the spines. The upper end of the fruit is sliced-off with a knife and the remaining piece sliced open on one side so that the thick skin can be easily removed by hand to eat the inner part (see pictures). High consumption of O. ficus-indica fruits, even though rather pleasant and tasty, causes intestinal problems. The fruit's taste and fleshy consistence are similar to a watermelon.
Opuntia species are spread all over Ethiopia and well known in most parts for their fruits as a famine food. In many parts of Tigray Region, the fruits are even sold on local markets, such as in Mekele town. In Konso people also eat the fruits in times of hardship.
A cactus which grows in arid and humid areas (500-2,400m), but the species is commonly spread in low- and midlands in Ethiopia.
Propagation is vegetative by cuttings, but severe control is required as it can become an invasive bush.
(1) Daro Abona, Daro Lebu Woreda, West Hararghe, Oromia; (2) Dibla Seat Kebele, Ganta Afesum Woreda, Eastern Tigray, (Tigray); (3) Babile Woreda, East Hararghe (Oromia)
It is an important fooder for camels in Somali Region. The leaves are used as forage for animals in bad years when there is severe feed shortage. But the thorns should be removed by burning using fire or it has to be at its early succulent stage.
1 Parts of the following description have been taken from Katende et al. 1999: p.328/329
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