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Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig opuntia or barbary fig) is a species of cactus and a long-domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world.


The most commercially valuable use for Opuntia ficus-indica today is for the large, sweet fruits, called tunas. Areas with significant tuna-growing cultivation include Mexico, Spain, Sicily and the coasts of Southern Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Chile, Brazil, Turkey as well as in Eritrea and Ethiopia where the fruit is called beles. In Sicily, where the prickly pear fruit is known as ficodinnia (the Italian name being fico d'India), the cactus grows wild and cultivated to heights of 12-16 feet (4-5 meters).


The plants flower in three distinct colors: white, yellow and red. The flowers first appear in early May through the early summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the fruit ripen from August through October. The fruit are typically eaten, minus the thick outer skin, after chilling in a refrigerator for a few hours. They have a taste similar to a juicy, extra sweet watermelon. The bright red/purple, or white/yellowish flesh contains many tiny hard seeds that are usually swallowed, but should be avoided by those who have problems digesting seeds.

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Taken on August 17, 2009