Removing the prickly pear from the South of the reserve was without a doubt one of the highlights of my time at Samara. When I first approached the cactus, smothered with an alarming number of dagger-like thorns, I approached with caution. Armed with pitchforks, pick-axes, shovels, and gloves didn’t feel like I had adequate protection – this was not just an alien species we were tackling, but an invasive alien species. Unsure what would happen as I took the first whack at the barbed stem, I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. The other volunteers stood about 10 metres away, waiting for the spikey shards to fly impossible distances to their exposed skin. In fact, the tool went right through the watery stem in one swing. It was so satisfying that we took it in turns cutting down the other cacti, and had a good laugh doing it.
The prickly pear, however, did get its revenge. One afternoon, back at camp, we were pleasantly surprised by an entire bag of prickly pear fruits in the kitchen. They were bright green on the inside, not dissimilar to a kiwi fruit, but had a sweet, unique taste. On to my third or fourth, and enjoying every bite, my hands suddenly became tingly, then scratchy, then unbearably itchy. I looked down to discover heaps of tiny white hairs stuck inside my fingers and palms! I had forgotten to carefully peal the fruit and was finding out first-hand how they came to get their infamous name.
Not only was the prickly pear memorable for the fun (and not so fun!) experiences I had with it – it was also one of the most meaningful activities on the reserve. With each cactus we cut down, we are preventing many more propagating, and so removing competition with indigenous species. This is no easy task – as even a small leaf left behind can rejuvenate into another plant. Working hard to remove all the leaves and roots was well worth the effort, and something we all enjoyed very much.
Anya, 18, UK