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This page has just some photographs of the Opuntia genus of the Cactaceae.
Return to main Opuntia page.

Prickly-Pear-Cochineal

Prickly Pear Cochineal

Opuntia phaeacantha (Brown-spined Prickly Pear Cacti) 
Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring, summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 24, 2004.

The pads of various species of Opuntia are sometimes dotted with a white, sticky, cottony mass that turns out to have an interesting natural history.  Dactylopus coccus, the small red Cochineal Bug, creates a haven for itself by constructing this mass.  Centuries ago human beings found that they could collect the Cochineal Bug from the white mass, crush the bug, and obtain a bright red liquid that could be used as a dye.  Fields were planted in Opuntia and the Cochineal Bugs were raised on these Opuntia --  at great financial cost.  The dye was most frequently used for the attire of Kings.

 

The photos at left show Opuntia phaeacantha and resident masses of Cochineal. I used a twig to remove one cottony mass and I then spread the mass on a rock.  Immediately a bright red liquid oozed out and quickly dried to dark maroon.

You can read more about the Cochineal Bug at many sites on-line.  See, for instance: http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ecoph3.htm 
and http://www.botgard.ucla.edu/html/botanytextbooks/economicbotany/Cochineal/

Opuntia phaeacantha (Brown-spined Prickly Pear Cacti) 
Cactaceae (Cactus Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring, summer.  
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, April 21, 2008.

It is common to see both Opuntia phaeacantha (pictured here) and Opuntia polyacantha sprawling along the ground in a maze-like configuration.  Sands collect on the uphill side and eventually bury the pads but new pads arise from the old and the plants live on.

Opuntia phaeacantha

 

The following pictures show the variety of Opuntia phaeacantha colors. All photos were taken in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument on May 24, 2004.