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Devil's Tongue: A Northeast Native for Cactus Lovers - Wild Roots
The succulent trend?is still very much alive in the design and gardening world. Run a quick Etsy search and you’ll?find?62,331 results for “succulent” and another 77,723 results specifically for “cactus,” most of which are not the plants or handmade?containers for them. There are 2,554 pieces of succulent jewelry, and another 1,462?non-jewelry succulent accessories. I totally get it. Succulents and cacti are resilient, strange, and beautiful plants with an exotic quality, especially to us here in the Northeast. They?elicit thoughts of hot deserts and big skies, at least for me. I’m a sucker for these drought-tolerant plants, and have a growing collection of them in our home. This love for succulents and cacti started?before I knew much at all about the importance of ecological gardening, and perused Sunset in awe of the drought-tolerant landscapes of the Southwest. (Yes, I get Sunset magazine, which friends find funny. My grandmother used to subscribe, and so I started too. It’s escapism.) If you’re into succulents but also understand the importance of?gardening outside with plants that contribute to a healthy ecosystem,?I’ve got a few plant recommendations that serve both botanical interests. Devil’s tongue (Opuntia humifusa) This one, by far, is the best match for Northeastern succulent lovers. Also called low prickly pear or smooth prickly pear, this is the only cactus widespread in the Northeast. It’s a low perennial with striking yellow flowers that precede edible fruit, and really the closest thing you’re going to get to that desert vibe here in Jersey. Prickly pear has been used in?traditional Mexican cuisine for thousands of years, and both the pads and fruit can be eaten. If you’re successful enough in growing this awesome?native succulent and get lots of fruit from it, the juice from the fruit?makes great jelly and can also be used in candy. That’s not all:According to WebMD (yep, that’s right), prickly pear cacti, which are rich in pectin and fiber, are?used to treat?type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, hangovers, colitis, diarrhea, and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), as well as to fight viral infections. Not surprisingly, native bees and honey bees also love it. The yellow blooms are easy to find, and as Dave Taft points out in this New York Times article, the stamens within the?bowl-shaped flowers actually lean in toward the bee. “Finding an open flower, a bee dives in, swimming through masses of pollen-laden anthers and vibrating its body rapidly to…