Online Encyclopedia

OPUNTIA

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V04, Page 926 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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OPUNTIA, the prickly pear, or Indian fig cactus, is a large typical group, comprising some 153 species, found in North America, the West Indies, and warmer parts of South America, extending as far as Chile. In aspect they are very distinct from any of the other groups. They are fleshy shrubs, with rounded, woody stems, and numerous succulent branches, composed in most of the species of separate joints or parts, which are much compressed, often elliptic or suborbicular, dotted over in spiral lines with small, fleshy, caducous leaves, in the axils of which are placed the areoles or tufts of barbed or hooked spines of two forms. The flowers are mostly yellow or reddish-yellow, and are succeeded by pear-shaped or egg-shaped fruits, having a broad scar at the top, furnished on their soft, fleshy rind with tufts of small spines. The sweet, juicy fruits of 0. vulgaris and 0. Tuna are much eaten under the name of prickly pears, and are greatly esteemed for their cooling properties. Both these species are extensively cultivated for their fruit in Southern Europe, the Canaries and northern Africa; and the fruits are not unfrequently to be seen in Covent Garden Market and in the shops of the leading fruiterers of the metropolis. 0. vulgaris is hardy in the south of England. The cochineal insect is nurtured on a species of Opuntia (0. coccinellifera) , separated by some authors under the name of Nopalea, and sometimes also on O. Tuna. Plantations of the nopal and the tuna, which are called nopaleries, are established for the purpose of rearing this insect, the Coccus Cacti, and these often contain as many as 50,000 plants. The females are placed on the plants about August, and in four months the first crop of cochineal is gathered, two more being produced in the course of the year. The native country of the insect is Mexico, and it is there more or less cultivated; but the greater part of our supply comes front Colombia and the Canary Islands.
End of Article: OPUNTIA
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