Bird hunting in Texas involved covering a lot of ground, pushing through brush and mesquite, following behind the dogs looking for quail. We wore brush-resistant pants and jackets, but still ended up with plenty of scratches and cuts.
We tried to avoid the prickly pear and cholla, but the dogs were hard to control. My dad carried a pair of pliers so that when we reached a clearing, he could check the dogs and remove any cactus spines from their face, fur or feet. It could be grueling following a quail covey through the brush, but when they reached the far edge and flushed, we had to be ready to find a target and fire.
It was rugged hunting and hard on us and the dogs, but we would usually find more open, accessible places to hunt and limit time in the brush. However, If you’ve ever been stuck by a prickly pear or tangled up with a cholla branch, you’re unlikely to forget it.
Many ranchers fought the cactus by conducting burns or just scraping up large areas with bulldozers to improve grazing for their cattle These piles of debris often become large swaths of dirt, rocks, uprooted mesquite and cactus, serving as barriers (and ideal homes for snakes). Writer Bridget Shirvel notes that the use of cacti as fencing is common, and quotes farmer and arborist Shawn Jadrnicek, “I’ve found this fence design tremendously useful as a farmer as it not only reduces the maintenance involved with fencing but it also generates income and will last as long as the cacti …”
Shirvel reports, “Prickly pear is a popular staple food in Mexico, where it’s treated as another vegetable, used in salads, salsas, sauteed with eggs or even to make an alternative French fry … Super versatile, it’s used in various products, including beauty items such as soaps, shampoos and lipstick, as well as food and beverages.”
“In 2021, Wild Hope Farm, which has built up a bit of a following for its prickly pear — a group that includes everyone from local brewers and farmers’ market regulars — sold around $15,000 worth of fruit from the fence. It also sells the cactus pads (nopales) for food and as potted plants… cacti are drought resistant, can improve soil health and, because they reach maturity every six months, can be harvested faster than many other crops.”
“Protection for the vegetable field was the original thought, but [the plants have] served multiple purposes,” says Peanut Belk, head of business operations at Wild Hope Farm. “Not only does it produce flowers which attract pollinators, but the fruit we can harvest and sell to different brewers and cocktail vendors. It’s a crop that we don’t have to touch and yet can make a lot of money off of.”
“Cactus is very near and dear to us Mexicans. It’s part of our heritage, culture and diet,” says Hector Saldivar, who started the food company Tia Lupita … “Not only are nopales high in nutritional properties, they are the oldest food in the North American continent.”
Bridget Shirvell, Could Edible Cactus Be the Next Big Specialty Crop?, October 17, 2022, Modern Farmer