Also known as Nopalea cochenillifera a “spineless” cactus grown for its edible fruits and pads. In the past this cactus was grown as a host for cochineal insects which then were harvested and macerated to make a red dye called cochineal. With the advent of synthetic dyes, this trade is not common anymore.
It serves as an erosion control plant and can tolerate saltwater as well as occasional flooding. It grows well in many types of soils and full sun to partial shade. In commercial settings were pads are harvested shrubs are kept with one main trunk at 3-4ft height to encourage production of new pads.
Young tender pads are usually selected for cooking, these have no glochids (hairs) or spines. If unsure about presence of glochids wear leather gloves and softly brush pads with your hands to prepare them for consumption. Other cacti in the Opuntia genus have thick spines which have to be cut off to consume the pad or fruit.