Opuntia problems: the expert answers on the diseases of the prickly pear




Hello everybody

I'm Alberto from Alterazioni Video, we are an artistic collective working in contemporary art.

For the latest Manifesta biennial we have created a concrete table with two branches of an opuntia (prickly pear) grafted out of the top and the leg.

This work is inspired by our project Unfinished Sicilian reflecting on the theme of great unfinished public works ...

Without making it too long, I wanted to ask you for some suggestions.

Attached you will find the photo of the work. In the construction of this table we did not think of putting any soil inside the table or preparing the plant in any way .... we cut two prickly pear branches and grafted directly into the table, in fact a piece of the cactus has rotted.

I don't know, maybe we had to first root the cut branches before grafting them and preparing a bag with earth inside the table ...

If you have any advice it would be very useful since we would like to repeat the experiment and manage to make the plant live.

Thank you for your patience see you soon



Hello Tree and hello to all of you in the collective, where should I start? I must say that when I saw your work (for which however I congratulate you for its originality and it is also very beautiful) I was speechless. However, I must say that, beyond everything, the fact that you have now realized that this accommodation for the poor opuntia was not the best and you want to try to remedy it, makes you merit.

Absolutely I want to tell you one thing: anything that has to do with this world is alive. Not only what we physically see moving such as animals, but also plants, earth, rocks, water, etc. They are forms of life different from what we are accustomed to define as such, but they are alive. Why do I say this. Because given your strong imagination I hope that in the future you will be able to achieve many other things that try to integrate worlds so different from each other but you remember to do it with respect for diversity.

Having said that, how to remedy this situation? We can't fix it. For the poor opuntia there is nothing more to be done. You have cut off her roots, she is without nourishment and water and all this in a very delicate phase for her, which is fruiting where the plant's effort is maximum because it is concentrated in the delicate phase of reproduction (all plants produce flowers and fruits not for the our beloved but to perpetuate their species with the production of seeds). At least do this for her: recover the cladodes (shovels), remove the small fruits and follow the instructions I give in the article on opuntia about its multiplication by cuttings and plant them in the countryside; someone, perhaps, could survive.

Having made this consideration, I looked at your sculpture for a long time trying to hypothesize solutions. Here's what I came up with.

I would do everything the same again only that instead of the poor opuntia I would use either a dry tree trunk (bearing in mind that being it too "alive", with the years it tends to degrade) or I would artificially create something that is completely similar to a tree trunk and I would put it as you have fixed the poor opuntia.

Without this I would settle on the trunk of the beautiful ones Tillandsia of the family of Bromeliaceae. See how decorative they can be.

The photo on the right is what the single plant looks like while on the left they are attached to a dead trunk which they use only as a support. They are in fact rootless plants so you just need to anchor them to any support and they grow. There are various species for which you can also have a good margin of choice or at least make a beautiful composition.

There are several species of plants, the so-called "epiphytes" that could live like the Tillandsia, for example several beautiful orchids, only that among all I have chosen to recommend this one because it is very rustic and free-range and requires very little care.

Obviously they need water and nutrients that must be administered by air (with a sprayer to understand) but the care is minimal, so much so that even the keeper of an exhibition can take care of them without hindering his work.

Among other things, several studies have been carried out on these plants as they have the ability to capture the polluting atmospheric agents that they are able to absorb and metabolize so that they would make the environment in which they are "cleaner" and do not need large amounts of light.

So if you don't feel like organizing on your own or you have some friend who "mounts" your plants and explains how to take care of them or you take your trunks to a good nurseryman and tell him to prepare them for you and so you can also explain how to take care of it.

This is my contribution. I hope you find it useful.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

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