I've been watching this cactus on Crane Point since last spring when it had an abundance of lovely yellow blossoms.
Now here it is in early November, with bright red-purple fruits, nearly two inches tall by an inch or so wide. The tops are dried tan . . . which leads to the question, "What was on top in the first place?" Answer: the petals. So a botanical detail that few of us even think about: the cactus has an "inferior" ovary. That is, the petals are on top with the fruit below, and when the petals fall away, this odd, tan area becomes obvious to us.
Another name is Brown-spined Prickly Pear. Looking closely at the cactus will reveal the brown spines. In the botanical name, Opuntia phaecantha, the last part means "brown-spined." "Opuntia" is perhaps the name of an ancient Greek town. The pronunciation is /o PUN shu/.
You'll probably notice the little brown spots at the base of the spines. These are called "glochids" and they look innocent enough. But they are actually clusters of tiny spines, each with a hooked tip! Beware!
This large, fleshy fruit, called a "tuna," is consumed by humans as well as by animals such as pack-rat, coyote and especially by the javelin in the warmer areas to our south. I've been told that jams, jellies and candy can be made from the fruit (after the spines and glochids are removed).
But the story takes new twists and turns. Just down slope from here are more prickly-pear and they had yellow blossoms too. But they don't have noticeable fruits now. My binoculars reveal that there are inch-tall, dry fruits at the tips of the cactus pads. A different cactus? There are a number of species, subspecies and varieties of prickly-pears or Opuntias and the flower color is no clue at all! They readily hybridize and range from red to pink to yellow and orange. The fruits may be dry or fleshy. The only sure identification is by the glochids and the spines, their characteristics and placements. Identification is, at best, a thorny prospect! So I choose to just call them prickly-pear cactus!blog comments powered by Disqus