Botalia | Lucca | 2012 | Silver
Most of the Opuntia genuses were brought from the Americas to South Africa for their ornamental qualities and edible fruit, as well as the plants’ ability to produce a natural impenetrable hedge. The plants, however, became wild and untamed and were soon one of the country’s most dangerous and expensive weeds. Fortunately, after a long battle to stop the spread of Opuntia in South Africa, the problem is mostly under control due to the implementation of various biological control agents.
Because of the invasive nature of Opuntia and other cacti in South Africa, it is easy to approach these plants with a certain animosity, and neglect to realize the great economic value which the production of prickly pears have in parts of the country. Commercial varieties of O. ficus-indica without the thorns are successfully produced in warmer regions. Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape has an annual prickly pear festival where the full potential of the plant can be witnessed, ranging from jams to dried fruit roll (made from the plant’s leaves) and “Mampoer”, a unique South African type of schnapps.
From a personal point, it is encouraging to realize that just as artists appreciate the potential of various materials, agriculturalists and farmers exploited the potential of the most feared weed in South Africa, and turned it into a product for the connoisseur. This eager endeavor, to me, reflects a proudly South African belief, one which aims to re-use, re-invent, and transform any negative obstacle into a positive product.