|Prickly pear cactus in the Vatican gardens|
After learning more about these eye-catching organisms, specifically the “prickly pear” type, otherwise known as “Fichi D'India” in Italian, I have found that the kind I am constantly drawn repeatedly to come from genus Opuntia in the cactus family, Cactaceae. They are native to the Americas but were later introduced to the Mediterranean part of Europe. They are named Fichi D’India, or “Indian Fig” translated into English, because they were first discovered in what Christopher Columbus thought was India, which later was of course confirmed as a new continent entirely, America. This type of cactus usually has two different kinds of spines, large smooth spikes as well as hair-like spines that will easily detach. The hair-like spines, called glochids, look soft and touchable, but are the exact opposite. They penetrate skin effortlessly and must be handled with great care.
|Prickly pear flowers in the Vatican gardens|
In southern Italy, they are wildly popular for their edible fruit and broad green leaves (paddles), especially in Sicily. In fact, Mexico is the first global producer, followed by none other than Italy itself. Apparently, they are of great importance in Italian cooking. They also used to serve as a healthy and hardybreakfast during grape season when grape-pickers might be feeling a little hungry and eat the grapes purposed solely for wine making. To this day, the tradition of eating the tunas for breakfast still stands. Not sure about you, but tuna for breakfast doesn't sound so appetizing to me. But then again, I'm from Texas.