The prickly pear or “nopal” population extends from the north to the center of the country but is of greatest complexity and richness in the central highlands. Each prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) field is, on a regional scale, a universe of plant and animal species that are found only under those conditions. Natural factors, and the use of wild prickly pears, determine the number of their species and abundance. There are prickly pear fields that consist of a single species while others may have as many as ten.
The genus Opuntia
Its name comes from the ancient Greek city of Opus or Opuncia, in the Leócrida region, Boeocia, where it is said that a cactus-like plant grew.
The prickly pear is the most widely distributed genus of the Cactaceae family and was named by Linnaeus in 1753 as Cactus opuntia. Later, Miller corrected this to Opuntia ficus-indica and this was designated as the type species. Around 220 species are now recognized, of which between 60 and 90 are found in Mexico. The complexity of their nomenclature is a reflection of their morphological diversity.
The prickly pear is one of the most important economic resources in the Mexican flora. For its various nutritional, chemical, industrial, ecological, medicinal and symbolic properties, the prickly pear is currently one of the most important plant resources for the inhabitants of the arid and semiarid regions of Mexico.