Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha
family: Cactus (Cactaceae)
heškóvemata, "thorny cactus" (Hart 1981: 16)
> matȧhó'ómo, "cactus on cactus" (Hart 1981: 16; Fisher et al.)
mataménȯtse, "cactus berries" (Grinnell 1923 II: 180)
Hairspine pricklypear forms low and dense thickets. Its flat pulpy leaves are 5 to 10 cm long. Blisters on the full-grown leaves are about 1 cm large, and have 5 to 9 straight thorns. Flowers are yellow, 4 to 5 cm wide. Hairspine pricklypear blossoms from may to early July. Fruit are dry, yellow-brown to brown, about 2 cm large. Hairspine pricklypear grows on the prairies and plains, from the lowlands to mountains. It ranges throughout the Great Plains, from southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; also in adjacent territories of Idaho and Utah.
Cheyennes ate fresh fruits, or dried them for winter use. Especially for the Southern Cheyenne women, the gathering, drying, and storing of these fruits was very important seasonal activity. The thorny fruits were collected in parfleche sacks which the thorns could not pierce. The women got the thorns out so that scattered the fruits on the ground and stirred and swept them over by small brushes of the sagebrush twigs, until they had removed most of the thorns. The women removed the remaining thorns by fingers which they protected with little finger tips of deerskin. Then, they gouged the seeds from the pulp, and dried it in the sun. The pulp was boiled with meat and its gelatinous content thickened the soups. Cheyennes used this way of the gathering and preparing of the fruits as late as 1915 (Grinnell 1923 II: 180–1).
The Cheyenne warriors on war parties obtained water from the pricklypear leaves. First they had to remove the thorns with a knife. A mucilage contained inside the pricklypear cactus was used to clear up muddy river water (Hart 1981: 17; Hooper 1975: 80).
The Cheyenne boys played the buffalo hunt with the pricklypear leaves. Those representing the buffalos painted a clay spot on both sides of the pulpy leaves, stuck the leaves on sticks, and carried them ahead. The thorny leaf symbolized the horns, which the animal used for defense, and the clay spot represented the buffalo’s heart. The larger boys, who acted the sulky buffalo bulls, ran behind the herd. The little hunters kept away, so that the bulls would not strike them with the thorns, and tried to hit the pricklypear leaf with their childy arrows at the same time (Grinnell 1923 I: 112).