Opuntia, also known as nopales or paddle cactus (see below), is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae.
Currently, only prickly pears are included in this genus of about 200 species distributed throughout most of the Americas. Chollas are now separated into the genus Cylindropuntia, which some still consider a subgenus of Opuntia. Austrocylindropuntia, Corynopuntia and Micropuntia are also often included in the present genus, but like Cylindropuntia they seem rather well distinct. Brasiliopuntia and Miqueliopuntia are closer relatives of Opuntia.
The most commonly culinary species is the Indian Fig Opuntia (O. ficus-indica). Most culinary uses of the term "prickly pear" refer to this species. Prickly pears are also known as "tuna", "nopal" or nopales, from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus.
The genus is named for the Ancient Greek city of Opus where, according to Theophrastus, an edible plant grew which could be propagated by rooting its leaves.
The flora of Australia comprises a vast assemblage of plant species estimated to over 20,000 vascular and 14,000 non-vascular plants, 250,000 species of fungi and over 3,000 lichens. The flora has strong affinities with the flora of Gondwana, and below the family level has a highly endemic angiosperm flora whose diversity was shaped by the effects of continental drift and climate change since the Cretaceous. Prominent features of the Australian flora are adaptations to aridity and fire which include scleromorphy and serotiny. These adaptations are common in species from the large and well-known families Proteaceae (Banksia), Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus - gum trees), and Fabaceae (Acacia - wattle).
The settlement of Australia by Indigenous Australians around 50,000 years ago and by Europeans from 1788, has had a significant impact on the flora. The use of fire-stick farming by the Aborigines led to significant changes in the distribution of plant species over time, and the large-scale modification or destruction of vegetation for agriculture and urban development since 1788 has altered the composition of most terrestrial ecosystems, leading to the extinction of 61 plant species and endangering over 1000 more.
Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of cactus that has long been a domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. It is thought to possibly be native to Mexico. Some of the common English names for the plant and its fruit are Indian fig opuntia, barbary fig, cactus pear and prickly pear, although this last name has also been applied to other less common Opuntia species.