(Opuntia Opuntia; 0. vulgaris of Gray) Cactus family

Flowers -Yellow, sometimes reddish at center, 2 to 3 in. across,

solitary, mostly seated at the side of joints. Calyx tube not

prolonged beyond ovary, its numerous lobes spreading. Petals

numerous; stamens very numerous; ovary cylindric; the style

longer than stamens, and with several stigmas. Stem: Prostrate or

ascending, fleshy, juicy, branching, the thick, flattened joints

oblong or rounded, 2 to 5 in. long. Leaves: Tiny, awl-shaped,

dotting the joints, but usually falling early; tufts of yellowish

bristles at their base. Plant unarmed, or with few solitary stout

spines. Fruit: Pear-shaped, pulpy, red, nearly smooth, 1 in. long

or over, edible.

Preferred Habitat - Sandy or dry or rocky places.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - Massachusetts to Florida.

Upwards of one hundred and fifty species of Opuntia, which elect

to grow in parching sands, beneath a scorching sun, often

prostrate on baking hot rocks, on glaring plains, beaches, and

deserts, from Massachusetts to Peru - for all are natives of the

New World - show so marvelous an adaptation to environment in

each instance that no group of plants is more interesting to the

botanist, more decorative in form and color from an artistic

standpoint, more distinctively characteristic. Plants choosing

such habitats as they have adopted, usually in tropical or

semi-tropical regions, had to resort to various expedients to

save loss of water through transpiration and evaporation. Now, as

leaves are the natural outlets for moisture thrown off by any

plant, manifestly the first thing to do was either to reduce the

number of branches and leaves, or to modify them into sharp

spines (not surface prickles like the rose's); to cultivate a low

habit of growth, not to expose unnecessary surface to sun and

air; to thicken the skin until little moisture could evaporate

through the leathery coat; and, finally, to utilize the material

thus saved in developing stems so large, fleshy, and juicy that

they should become wells in a desert, with powers of sustenance

great enough to support the plant through its fiery trials. A

common expedient of plants in dry situations, even at the north,

is to modify their leaves into spines, as the gorse and the

barberry, for example, have done. That such an armor also serves

to protect them against the ravages of grazing animals is an

additional advantage, of course; but not their sole motive in

wearing it. Popular to destruction would the cool juices of the

cacti be in thirsty lands, if only they might be obtained without

painful and often poisonous scratches. Given moist soil and

greater humidity of atmosphere to grow in, spiny plants at once

show a tendency to grow taller, to branch and become leafy. A

covering of hairs which reflect the light, thus diminishing the

amount that might reach the juicy interior area, has likewise

been employed by many cacti, among other denizens of dry soil.

In this common prickly pear cactus of the Atlantic seaboard,

where the air is laden with moisture from the ocean, few or no

spines are produced; and dotted over the surface of its

branching, fleshy, flattened joints we find tiny, awl-shaped

leaves, whereas foliage is entirely wanting in the densely

prickly, rounded, solid, unbranched, hairy cacti of the

southwestern deserts, and the arid plains of Mexico.

In sunshine the beautiful yellow blossom of our prickly pear

expands to welcome the bees, folding up its petals again for

several successive nights. William Hamilton Gibson says it

"encloses its buzzing visitor in a golden bower, from which he

must emerge at the roof as dusty as a miller," only to enter

another blossom and leave some pollen on its numerous stigmas.

But the cochineal, not the bee, is forever associated with cacti

in the popular mind. Indeed, several species are extensively

grown on plantations, known as Nopaleries, which furnish food to

countless trillions of these tiny insects. Like its relative the

aphis of rose bushes (see wild roses), the cochineal fastens

itself to a cactus plant by its sucking tube, to live on the

juices. The males are winged, and only the female, which yields

the valuable dye, sticks tight to the plant. Three crops of

insects a year are harvested on a Mexican plantation. After three

months' sucking, the females are brushed off, dried in ovens, and

sold for about two thousand dollars a ton. The annual yield of

Mexico amounting to many thousands of tons, it is no wonder the

cactus plant, which furnishes so valuable an industry, should

appear on the coat-of-arms of the Mexican republic. Some cacti

are planted for hedges, the fruit of others furnishes a

refreshing drink in tropical climates, the juices are used as a

water color, and to dye candies - in short, this genus Opuntia

and allied clans have great commercial value.

The WESTERN PRICKLY PEAR (0. humifusa; O. Rafnesquii of Gray) - a

variable species ranging from Minnesota to Texas, is similar to

the preceding, but bears a larger flower, and longer, more

rounded, deeper green joints, beset with not numerous spines,

scattered chiefly near their margins. A few deflexed spines in a

cluster leave the surface where a tiny awl-shaped leaf and a tuft

of reddish brown hairs are likewise usually found.

EARLY SAXIFRAGE ELECAMPANE HORSEHEAL YELLOW STARWORT facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail