Part of my job, so it seems to me, is to be a novelty agent on the Noble Rot rooftop garden. Sometimes that involves being an agent provocateur as I slyly disregard my chef’s wishes and plant what I think should be planted, and sometimes it is merely being an agent of change, a scourer of the world’s plant material and tester of what seems novel yet appropriate for a restaurant garden.
This year I am very excited to introduce an Opuntia cactus to our collection, with hopes that we’ll be seeing some nopal omelets and tuna desserts in the Nobel Rot’s future (Note: Nopal refers to the edible green “beaver tail” pads of the cactus and tuna, in cacti parlance, is the red or yellow fruit, both parts being edible. Just as tuna fish was billed as the “chicken of the sea”, I wonder if the prickly pear cactus will one day be called the “tuna of the land”?).
In the first quarter of the 20th century, famed plant breeder Luther Burbank was apparently busy with hybridizing two species of edible Opuntia, the Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) and the Mexican prickly pear (Opuntia tuna). He produced over 60 new varieties of spineless cacti for eating, some selected for the succulent pads (which can be food for humans or forage for cattle) and others for the sweet, tasty fruit. So it is with a little unresolved curiosity that I received my cactus starts from Territorial Seed Company, under the name “Luther Burbank’s Thornless Opuntia Prickly Pear”. If he produced 60 such spine-free varieties, then I wonder which one, precisely, this one is.
Wow, is this really what my little pad/start is going to yield? I’m salivating already!
No matter. I was excited to receive them and excited to plant them on the roof. This plant seems to have all the characteristics suited for a generic rooftop garden. Requires full sun…check. It’s extremely drought tolerant, so little to no watering attention is needed. It demands good drainage, and that’s what rooftop soils are engineered to do. Finally, it thrives with few nutrients in the soil, another characteristic of your run-of-the-mill roof soil. Instead of growing carpets of seedums and sempervirens on rooftops, perhaps we could be producing nopales! Still, this plant can get big, so that may be a challenge with a shallow soil profile. I am nowhere near declaring victory just yet, but I feel my excitement at the roofy potential of the plant is well-deserved (would be great in a neglected but sunny corner of the backyard, too).
So the little pads are in, and we shall wait and see how they fare. What I can confidently say is that I have made my mark as an agent of change!
If you want to order some cacti for your garden, here’s the link to Territorial’s website: