Biology, Chemical Composition, Cultivation and Applications of Cacti from the Opuntia Genus

In this review, we approached various aspects of Opuntia sp. that are a type of forage cacti. These plants stand out for its energy potential and have peculiar morphological and physiological features that  allow  tolerance  for  long  periods  of  drought.  In  addition,  Opuntia  species  has  a  cosmopolitan distribution, found mainly in arid and semi-arid regions. Opuntia sp. presents phenotypic variations related  to  weather  conditions,  like  polyploidy  occurring  in  a  large  number  of  populations  and  high hybridization capacity.  These  plants  have  a  shrub  morphological  characteristic  with  ramifications, variable size, from creeping until arboreal; it can reach up to 4 m high and a series of fleshy stems with, depending on time of year, flowers and fruits. Opuntia sp. have a typical physiology with the photosynthetic process called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM); stomata close during the day in order to maintain hydration of tissues. The chemical composition of Opuntia sp. varies according to species,  age  of  reticule, and  season.  These  cacti  have  excellent  nutritional  value  with  high  water content (about 90%), digestibility in vitro (about 75%) and vitamin A; in addition, they have organic matter  (67%),  energy  (2,61  Mcal.kg-1),  crude  fiber  (4.3%),  phosphorus  (0.08  to  0.18%),  calcium (4.2%), potassium (2.3%)  and  magnesium (1.4%), but shows low protein  content (about 5%). The proper yield of the crop needs a climate with 400-800 mm annual rainfall, relative humidity above 40% and day/night  temperature  from  25  to  15°C.  The wide  variety  of  applications  demonstrates  the versatility of this plant species, being used in food and feed, agriculture, medicine, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, in water and wastewater treatments, and even as insecticide agent. Opuntia genus comprises about 1500 species and O. ficus indica is the most important as forage and human uses.

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