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February 18, 2008

Prickly Pear Cactus at Westhill Drive and Belgatos Road in Los Gatos, CAEver eat the fruit from a cactus bush? If you’ve tried prickly pear, then you have! 

Prickly pear used to be extremely widespread in the “wild west” and is still commonly found in the western U.S. today. In the Belwood area of Los Gatos, you can find it in at least three places: along Harwood Road, on Bacigalupi Drive and at Westhill and Belgatos Roads.

The fruit makes a nice jelly or can be eaten raw.  

It’s more than just a hearty fruit on a formidable looking plant, though. Back in the days of settlers, this cactus had an extremely important use, it kept the bears out. It grows into something of a tall, thick wall and develops large, strong, sharp needles. You’d think twice before getting too close to it. So did the grizzlies.

So the settlers grew prickly pear around the perimeter of their homes like a tall fence or wall, and the cabins were much better fortified against hungry intruders with sharp teeth and claws. All the better that each year, the fruit would ripen and could be consumed or preserved too!

Next time you see this local cactus, remember the wild west, imagine how important it would be to you and be glad that today, we think of this plant for food and landscaping only and not for home protection.