Tree Chollas (Cylindropuntia imbricata) are common in this area. They like sun so my heavily wooded acreage doesn’t have any, they’re more common where the trees are farther apart . I have eaten some of their fruit and like the taste, a bit like papaya. The dried fruit can be ground and cooked into other foods. Since fruit stays on the tree for a year or so, you can count on something edible all year. Nice for a food forest.
Yesterday I got a nice cutting from one down the street. I am pleased because I consider this a nice addition to my food forest.
The flowers are brilliant fuchsia, tasty and high in soluble fiber, great to bring down high cholesterol. They also have more calcium in 2 tablespoons than a glass of milk. Even more amazing, they are a good source of iron and protein. Before eating, roll the flower buds on a hard surface to remove the glochids.
Sounds like a good snack for my girls, too, since laying eggs requires a lot of calcium. I have lactose intolerance, so good for me too. Tree Chollas are prolific bloomers, so harvesting flower buds is a piece of cake.
Did I mention the stunning beauty of these trees when they have 3 inch fuchsia blooms on them? I love stunning beauty.
The raw fruits are reminiscent of papaya, but can also be chopped, boiled, strained, and used as a dye mordant. One of these days I will create something to dye and test this out.
The seeds can be roasted then ground to powder and used as a nutritious addition to other foods. I aadmitI haven’t tried this yet because I haven’t had Trees on my own property. I am excited to get them started.
In a pinch, the new pads can be prepared and eaten as greens. First Nation people ate them when hungry enough. They are available in late winter when most foods are unavailable.
The main thing is to handle carefully because like their prickly pear cousins they have big spines and fine glochids (I think these are more painful). Leather gloves help. Tongs are good. Bare skin not so much. Asking someone to show you how to handle these works best. I learned in Mexico from friends who ate these and prickly pear.
Old stems look braided and are used by local artists to create walking canes and the trees are sometimes called cane cholla.
Because these trees are more drought tolerant than prickly pears, I will plant them in a particularly dry spot where I had serious pinyon pine die back. It is open to the west sun and about 50 feet in diameter. Mule deer like to sun themselves there in the winter so I will only put them on the lower side, leaving the center open. Maybe they will like the barrier between them and the road.
In any event, Tree Cholla is a safe refuge for cactus wrens, curve billed thrashers, mourning doves, roadrunners, and various rodents. It keeps coyotes out but not snakes! Hard to believe but snakes glide through the stickers and eat rodents. Mice will stack up pieces of the pads and live underneath.
As an outer barrier fence, this is a jewel. It is easy to start by cutting pads then letting the cut dry a few days. Put where you want it to grow and forget it. It certainly discourages intruders and feeds the homefolk including native bees.
As I add easy growing plants for Santa Fe County, I wonder why we insist on laborious food gardens. These plants provided food for centuries with care. Especially food that can be grown without using precious groundwater or water piped in from other states. Precarious at best.
What has us ignore First Nation foods? Not much more than habit. Experts say three weeks creates a habit. I say nibble here and there to get used to new flavors and textures. The more I walk my food forest, the more I find ripe food at its peak. I never worry about a large crop because I do not eat like that. I buy rice and wheat flour. Rice is a lovely addition to wild foods and a large bag is inexpensive and long lasting. Wild foods make excellent stir fries that constantly change to serve with rice. I grow potatoes that are delicious in soups accented by whatever is ripe today.
Because I have eaten from the outdoors all my life, I don’t have that ingrained sneer that greets me sometimes when I mention interesting foods.
The biggest thing I get from local harvesting is the health benefits of eating a wide variety of fresh, natural foods that I know are not genetically modified or sprayed with toxins. Sadly, global megacorporations are genetically modifying the 15 most common foods that currently sustain 7 billion people. A failure will mean starvation for poor in cities and exorbitant prices for everyone else. Food riots are common.
A few years ago, due to crop failure, garbanzo beans literally disappeared from our grocery shelves for a year. I only use dried ones and canned were available at high prices… but canned are salted at levels I can no longer eat. Eating foods with flavor reduces salt intake without suffering.
Eating fresh seasonal foods cuts down on food allergy issues, many of which are connected to year round eating of a few foods. Even organic stores have the same foods repeated all year.
In all, Tree Cholla seems a beneficial addition as much for its food value as for its wild life value. It rounds out the circular economy by creating more niches for life and providing food in late winter.