Opuntia ficus-indica
Indian fig or prickly pear

Elisabeth Dowle, 2015. © The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust.

The kitchen garden at Vaucluse House

The kitchen garden at Vaucluse House is filled with heirloom varieties of colonial staples like cabbage and squash, as well as lesser known fruit and vegetables such as medlars, cardoons and salsify. It was re-created in 2000 on the site of the Wentworth family’s much larger productive garden, which included an orchard, grape vines and orangery.

Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums.

Horticulturist Anita Rayner trims the prickly pear hedge at Vaucluse House

After five years in the colony, English-born writer Louisa Meredith described hedges formed of ‘the fruit-bearing cactus, called the prickly pear … a detestable thing, which if touched, even with strong leathern gloves, so penetrates them with its fine long spines, that the hands of the unlucky meddler are most annoyingly hurt by them’ (Notes and sketches of New South Wales, 1844).

Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums.

Recipe for prickly pear jelly
From Hannah Maclurcan, Mrs Maclurcan’s cookery book: a collection of practical recipes specially suitable for Australia, George Robertson & Company, 1905.
Courtesy Jacqui Newling 

The orange fruit of the prickly pear can be eaten once the fine, skin-irritating needles that cover them have been removed. Recipes for prickly pear jelly are found in early Australian cookbooks, including Mrs Maclurcan’s cookery book. Mrs Maclurcan recommended an unusual way of preparing the fruit: rubbing it in sawdust or sand until the prickles were removed.

The prickly pear hedge at Vaucluse House

By the late 19th century, Opuntia species introduced to Australia for economic and ornamental uses had invaded vast swaths of NSW and Queensland. Only the introduction of the cactoblastis moth from the 1920s saw these pest species gradually brought under control.

Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums.

Prickly pear

Opuntia ficus-indica