Opuntia microdasys: Bunny Ears

Northern Mexico is the original home of the cactus, a characteristic member of this large genus numbering some 250 species.

It is a jointed, rather tall, shrub-like cactus that grows to a height of 60 to 100 cm (24 to 40 in) in cultivation. The individual joints are about 15 cm (6 in) long and 10 cm (4 in) wide, covered with regularly spaced areoles from which grow tufts of short barbed bristles (glochids). The flowers are numerous, 4 to 5 cm (1-½ to 2 in) long, and vivid yellow turning to red as they fade. The elliptic fruits, about 4.5 cm (l-¾ in) long, are coloured violet red and contain a large number of seeds.

Opuntia microdasys, the type species, has golden-yellow glochids and is accordingly known as the golden opuntia; the widely cultivated variety O. microdasys albispina has white glochids. This variety also includes a miniature form {minima) which is a paler green and is less than half as large.

Opuntias are veritable symbols of the regions where they grow. In some parts of Mexico they comprise more than half the existing vegetation, mostly due to the fact that they multiply readily, both by means of seeds and detached joints. This proved to be a catastrophe in Australia where they were introduced and where they had no natural enemies to curb their rapid spread. The problem was solved by bringing in pests that would keep their number within reasonable bounds.

Opuntias, of course, also have their good points. Their fruits are edible and very popular in Central America. In some species even the whole joints are edible. It is not only the poorest Indians who eat them, as sometimes stated in reference books; recipes for making tasty dishes from opuntias may be found in some of the best cookery books.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, House Plants | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Opuntia microdasys: Bunny Ears

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