Rus Articles Journal

What grows in the desert Sonora? A prickly pear familiar and unfamiliar

the Cactuses relating to a sort a prickly pear ( of Opuntia ), are widespread in the desert Sonora. Prickly pears differ in a big specific variety, big ecological plasticity and ability to form hybrids between sibling species.

In the USA interesting experiment was made. One botanist was invited to visit the house of Juanita belonging to the indigenous American people of the tribe of Indians O`odam that in translation means “people of the desert“. The reservation of the tribe is in the desert Sonora. Juanita has a small ground where the set of cactuses including a prickly pear grows. It was offered to Botaniku and Juanita to define how many types of a prickly pear grow around the house of the hostess. The botanist found 2 types of a prickly pear, Juanita - 5 types!

Subsequently the commission confirmed that the housewife Juanita was right. She used color, taste and quality of fruits of a prickly pear as criterion. Indians within centuries use different types of a prickly pear as foodstuff.

of Feature of prickly pears

is characteristic

Of this sort of cactuses some originality. In - the first, stalks consist of distinct segments. Growth of cactuses comes branching from the main stalk. Usually, growth stops with approach of a droughty season. In - the second, unlike other cactuses, the prickly pear has a few prickles, sharp, but very fragile. They can be removed easily from a segment. In - the third, new rudimentary “leaves“ are always available in places of a joint of segments. In - the fourth, seeds of prickly pears have the features: they form two cotyledons covered with a seed peel. In other words, on a structure of seeds of a prickly pear are intermediate between the most ancient forms of cactuses and more advanced which in seeds already have a reserve of nutrients for future escape. By the present moment about 300 types of shrubby and treelike prickly pears are known.

of the Prickly pear of the desert Sonora

Engelmann`s Prickly pear ( of Opuntia engelmannii ) - very usual look inhabiting the desert. The cactus represents a bush of a hemispherical form, up to one and a half meters high and up to 3 - 5 m wide. This look easily forms hybrids with other closely related types of cactuses. One segment can reach 30 cm in length. Engelmann`s prickly pear is among the most quickly growing cactuses.

Blossoming begins at the beginning of May and continues until the end of spring. Flowers of a prickly pear of Engelmann yellow also reach the size of 8 cm. At some adult plants they can have an orange shade.

Fruits are very juicy, their color varies from red to violet. They have the pear-shaped form, contain a lot of water and are covered from above with a wax-like peel which protects them from drying. For a form of fruits this type of a cactus often call a prickly desert pear .

Fruits ripen in July - August. They are very nice to the taste, remain on a cactus within several months. They are eaten willingly by rabbits, squirrels, numerous birds. However some fruits which are in plant depth are inaccessible for animals. They can be found on a cactus till November, but they look already slightly podvyavshy.

Scientists became interested why the plant spends energy for overproduction of fruits and seeds. The unusual hypothesis was stated that some types of a prickly pear developed (koevolyuiroval) together with the died-out nowadays huge mammals, such as mammoths and huge idlers. These herbivores did not disdain to regale on juicy fruits of prickly pears. As a result for preservation of populations of different types of a cactus ability to overproduction of fruits and seeds was gradually developed. If this hypothesis receives further confirmation, then prickly pears can make “the contribution“ to the theory of evolution of land ecosystems.

A prickly pear green ( of Opuntia chlorotica ) looks as a bush. Grows vertically from one trunk. Usually reaches in height of 1 - 1,5 m. Segments of an oval form, have shades from green to emerald. On them there are very small needles which are settling down small groups on all segment. If incidentally to touch a leaf, then needles deeply stick into skin. It is very difficult to remove them therefore at the address with this cactus it is necessary to be extremely careful.

The prickly pear green blossoms in May, flowers yellow with a large number of petals. Mature fruits have a reddish shade. They smaller and less juicy, than at Engelmann`s prickly pear.

One more interesting look - a prickly pear violet ( of Opuntia violacea ). It meets in the desert not so often as other types of a prickly pear. This cactus is called also a violet prickly pear . It grows at a compact bush of spherical shape, reaching one and a half meters in height and width. Has round segments which are capable to change the color within a year. Usually segments have a bluish shade, and in the winter and during the droughty period become red or violet. On “leaves“ there are small numerous needles which are collected in the small “clusters“ scattered on their surface.

Blossoming time - since April until the end of May. Flowers large, yellow color. Fruits it is red - violet, up to 4 cm in size. They remain till winter and serve as a forage for animals during this period of year.

As people used a prickly pear

Many people eat young segments of prickly pears. They are very tasty and nutritious. Sometimes young “leaves“ of a cactus cut small pieces and add to soups. They contain a lot of slime and do soup to richer. This slime contains also substances which can control sugar level in blood and prevent development of diabetes. The last researches of the American scientists proved that extract of segments of a prickly pear contains the substances reducing concentration of “bad cholesterol“ in blood. From fruits of a prickly pear produce jelly and very tasty drinks.

One more interesting story is connected with a prickly pear. During a gain of the New World their main interest was concentrated by Spaniards on search and a robbery of precious metals at indigenous people. Being wound on the desert in search of treasures, they saw prickly pear thickets, having looked narrowly is closer to “leaves“, conquerors found a parasitic insect the cochineal insect which ate juice of this cactus. This insect treats group of semi-coleoptera and has the Latin name Dactylopius coccus .

Observant Spaniards found one more feature of the cochineal insect: these parasites contain brightly - crimson liquid, distasteful which frightens off from them other insects. Later they “found out“ a secret of Indians who used liquid of the cochineal insect for coloring of fabrics in the sated red or violet colors. Paint received the name “carmine“.

Enterprising conquistadors brought rare paint to Europe soon. It was very expensive, and first only royal persons were able to afford to have the clothes painted by a carmine. The secret of production of paint was kept a secret several centuries, “karminovy business“ brought in to Spain much more incomes, than the stolen gold …

it Turns out that it is good all a familiar prickly pear - a surprising plant. Strikes a specific variety of this cactus. This ancient plant which served as food to the died-out animals long ago many millions years ago and scientists try to use his history for reconstruction of development of land ecosystems far back in the past.

The population estimated flavoring and medicinal properties of a prickly pear. And some “gentlemen of good luck“ made successful business on expensive vegetable paint which receiving is impossible without participation of this inhabitant of the desert Sonora.