Saturday, August 5, 2017

Edible Cactus Fruits

I've now eaten four kinds of cactus fruit, three for the first time this year. Having visited the desert multiple times over a period of time, from spring to mid-summer, I'm starting to get a feel for the flower/fruit cycle. I've decided to put the cycles of these four cacti together in one post. 

The first cactus fruit I tried was hedgehog cactus on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park seven years ago. The hedgehog is one of the more common cacti in that area and has some of the more beautiful of any of the spring/early summer flowers. I found the hedgehog fruiting in late May. 
Hedgehog cactus in the San Felipe Valley, California.  Some of the individual cacti have no flowers, several are just budding and have not yet flowered, and one is flowering. 
Hedgehog blooming in the San Felipe Valley.
A hedgehog flower.
Red round fruit on these hedgehogs near Joshua Tree National Park.

A fruit cut in half. The black seeds are very tiny and the taste is very much like dragon fruit. 
The outside cut away to reveal the inner fruit. 
The second cactus fruit I tried was saguaro. I'd seen the saguaro flowers previously, they only bloom at night, but it took going later to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ("OCPNM") in mid-June, later in the summer than I'd ever visited, to see the fruit. 
A saguaro in OPCNM.
Flowers on saguaro arms.
Buds and flowers.
The flowers turn into fruit. The fruit is initially green and then turns red. The open red fruit to the right is fruit that has burst and lost its contents. 
Several ripe fruit on this arm. In fact I ate the one to the top left. It is a trick getting them off. I used dead saguaro spines to knock it off. 
The saguaro fruit.
Inside the saguaro fruit. The seeds are larger than hedgehog seeds, but still edible. It was quite moist and slightly sweet. 
I went back to OPCNM in late July this year for the purpose of finding the organ pipe cactus in fruit. Like the saguaro, I'd seen the organ pipe flower previously, which also only blooms at night, but I really wanted to taste the fruit.The saguaro fruit was basically over, so at least in OPCNM this year, the organ pipe fruit come on later than the saguaro fruit. 
Organ pipe cactus in OPCNM in southern Arizona.
Flowering organ pipe.
The flower dies and a round ball begins to develop at its base. These individual arms all have rounded fruits in various stages of ripeness hanging on them. 
A ripe organ pipe fruit that has been breached and the contents eaten by birds. I saw white-winged doves feeding on it. Other fruit are growing around it. 
An organ pipe fruit that I've cut off the cactus and then cut in half. The little black seeds are very similar to those in the hedgehog fruit. It is lightly sweet and has the texture of water melon. 
In late July I also found the Engelmann's prickly pear cactus in bloom. The ripe fruit is easy to identify and easy to obtain, unlike both the saguaro and organ pipe, part of the reason I'm sure that the desert Indians made the prickly pear fruit a part of their diet. 
Engelmann's prickly pear cactus in OPCNM. 
It has a beautiful yellow flower. I believe this particular prickly pear was photographed near Havasupai in northern Arizona.
The fruit growing after the flower has died. 
Reddish/purple fruit.
Fruit detached from the cactus.
Cut in half. I ate several of them. They were slightly sour when not as ripe, and lost the sourness when fully ripe and they became more moist. This one was not as ripe as some others. 
Unlike the other cactus fruit, the seeds were very large and very hard. I made no attempt to try and eat them.
For texture I really loved the hedgehog fruit. I found it on a very warm day and the cool slightly sweet fruit was a perfect complement to the day. In larger quantities, for an add-in in ice cream or similar, I think I would go with saguaro fruit. It has a little bit stronger flavor. 


  1. Nice sequence. You'll be a good person to hang out with on a survival trip in the desert.

  2. I'd be willing to try those if ice cream was involved :)

  3. I could never imagine to consume a cactus fruit because of the word cactus before it. It just gives me the creeps but seeing the photography and the description of the taste makes me want to try it.