cactus-food

Cactus Food on Your Breakfast Table

Everybody knows that cactuses are prickly. However, the fact that they are also an important source of food is far less popular. Stems, fruits and seeds of cactus have been have been More »

fear-and-loathing-cactus

Psychedelic Cactus Adventure

We are human beings and, as the Eden’s incident proves it, it’s typical for all of us to cherish a desire for something forbidden and adventurous within. How about growing a plant More »

mountain-cacti-big

Mountain cacti

Have you ever been to or have you ever seen the pictures of the Andes or the Cordilleras? These are the places of such cactus types as astrophytum, cleistocactus, echinopsis, lobivia, notocactus, More »

Prickly-pear-cactus

Did you know these prickly things?

We all got used to cactuses as original and beautiful houseplants. So when we hear the word “cactus” we usually think of those natty prickly green things in small pots on our More »

saguaro-cactus

Taking care of saguaro cactus

When you hear the word “saguaro” you probably imagine a large, tree-sized cactus with a mighty ribbed stalk that grows in the Caribbee coastwise. I also once thought that all representatives of More »

Tag Archives: opuntia

Cactus Food on Your Breakfast Table

Everybody knows that cactuses are prickly. However, the fact that they are also an important source of food is far less popular.

Cactus FoodStems, fruits and seeds of cactus have been have been traditionally used as food for centuries. They are eaten raw or precessed: baked, fried, boiled. People make jams, jellied and various sorts of beverages of cactus. The stems of certain cacti are perfect for making candied fruits. Fresh young shoots of Opuntia are often added to salads (without spines, or course). Hot dishes with cactuses taste particularly delicious.

Still many of us may think that cactus food is something that is pretty much exotic. But in fact, everyone can try cactuses, even those which we have on our windowsills. You should know that there are no poisonous cacti and all their parts (but for spines, of course) are eatable. Some cactus types contain drug substances and give you hallucinations, so you should be careful and don’t take in too much – however, in most cases it’s not possible since these cacti don’t usually taste very good. You should also bear in mind that home plants are more or less exposed to chemical treatment such as biocide and artificial fertilizers) and, therefore, you need to rinse the parts which you are going to try. Anyways, keep your small kids away from your prickly friends – they should not be treated to such meals.

So one can chew a piece of any cactus kept at home. But in most cases you will be disappointed – most of them will taste grassy. Fruits of most indoor cacti are simply too small or not fleshy. The only exception may be young large segments of prickly pear cactus with few spines.  However, you can always try berries that adorn many species of mamillaria (also known as nipple-cactus): they are juicy, sour, and have no aroma. Red juice of these berries is a good food dye. Many mamillaria fruits are tied without pollination, so it’s not a problem to grow them at home. With some effort it’s not very difficult to get a more visible “crop”. Having pollinated two flowers of different nipple-cacti you will soon get pear-shaped pink ribbed fruit with the size of a small plum. They are juicy, fleshy, and edible. As for their taste, they are just tasteless, but it’s worth experimanting.

You can get even more interesting result by cross-pollination hybrid varieties of crab-cacti (Epiphyllum). Don’t worry if you have just one blooming cactus. It’s not necessary to have both plants in your house for cross-pollination – ask neighbors, friends or colleges whether them have a “partner” for your prickly friend. Just pluck its flower – be careful not to damage it, as the excreting juice will make the pollen useless. The pollen can be also collected with a dry or slightly damp sponge or soft brush, so you don’t even need to pluck a flower. The collected pollen doesn’t lose its properties for several days if kept in the fridge.

The pollen is applied by drawing the flower’s anthers or brush with the pollen across the snout of the other flower. Cactus fruit is formed in the bottom of the flower tube. If all goes well, the base of the flower begins tto grow and thicken. In about a it produces a pink fruit with the shape of a plum and shiny skin. The ripe fruit is soft and easily detached from the stem. Cut it lengthwise and eat its flesh with seeds with a spoon. There are many enthusiastic descriptions of its taste and aroma, but it is better not to read them in advance in order not to be slightly disappointed afterwords.

However, the most spectacular fruit, which you can grow in home conditions is the berry of selenicereus (aka night queen flower). The main difficulty in obtaining it is to find two simultaneously blooming plants. As a reward, you will get a heavy orange-sized fruit densely covered with spines and smal hairs. This “berry” is really tasty and flavorous. Cut it into pieces and eat its flesh with a spoon. Bon apetit!

Image source: www.flickr.com/photos/octopushat/3205154762/

Top 10 Amazing Facts About Cactus

Here is the list of top 10 amazing facts about cactus.

Fact 1: Sold for $120,000. Some years ago a unique collection of cacti was sold at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. The starting price of the item was $35,000, but the price rose up to $120,000 during the bidding. The lucky winner was one of the owners of Daimler-Benz (currently Daimler AG), a German automobile manufacturer.

Fact 2: More than 2,500 cactus species. In the ancient Hellas any prickly plant, such as burdock or artichoke, was called cactus. The taxonomic classification of plants was not developed yet. And only in the XVIII century the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus first used the word ‘cactus’ to describe a particular genus of plants. Nowadays more than 2,500 cactus species are distinguished.

Fact 3: Champ in endurance. With the air temperature of 37°С a cactus can reach the temperature of 52°С. A cactus can grow up to 15 meters and can stay alive for a long time even without its roots. Luther Burbank, а renowned horticulturist, left a cactus hanging upside down on a tree for six years for the sake of experiment. Then he successfully planted it again and the cactus continued to grow.

Fact 4: So various in size. The smallest cactus in the world is called Blossfeldia. It is so small that can be comfortably put in a teaspoon. And the world’s largest cactus is Californian giant Cereus. It resembles a chandelier by its shape and its stem can store up to 2 tons of water. The tallest cactus of this species grew up to 150 years and reached the height of 24 meters.

Fact 5: Most beautiful cactus. The flower of Cereus serpentinus is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. This cactus blooms only at night. The flower has the size of a large plate, almost 30 cm in diameter. It consists of 75 golden scales, 25 long pointed snow-white petals arranged spirally, and 600 luminous stamens. This cactus is very fastidious and the only place where it took root and now continues to grow is the cactus garden in Monte Carlo. This garden is situated on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and in some its places there are natural “bridges” made of cactuses that hang over the coasts and precipes and can serve the visitors of the garden.

Fact 6: Beware of cactus handshake. If you walk barefoot or with unprotected hands and there are cactuses nearby, you’d better think twice. Cactus experts say that a human hand can catch more than about a hundred sharp spines after an incautious “handshake” with a cactus. And those who had such an acquaintance know how painful it is to pull those spines out. The record in this respect was made in 1956 – 267 spines were stuck into the hand of an unfortunate Brazilian.

Fact 7: Australian cactus terror. But the most numerous victims of cactus sharp hospitality are Australians. Opuntia was brought to Australia from Brazil and in a short period of time got widely spread all over the continent. Soon almost all the cattle was nearly extinguished: cows ate cactuses and died suffering from sharp spines in their stomachs. Australia was saved from Opuntia by Argentine moth, a cactus pest that was dispersed from planes. There is even a monument to Argentine moth in Australia that is, in fact, the only monument ever set up to a butterfly.

Fact 8: Mexican top secret. Do you know what carmine, a unique bright red dye, is made of? By the way it was the state secret of Mexico until 1785. But now we know that it is made of cochineal insects that were once found only in this country. Mexicans used squirrel tails to sweep the insects from cactuses, then steamed and dried them to prepare the dye.

Fact 9: Most dangerous cactus. They belong to the genus Lophophora, or peyote, and their cultivation is strictly prohibited in all countries because of strong hallucinogens they contain. While converting Aztecs to Christianity the Catholic priests asked them strictly two questions: “Have you tried human flesh?” and “Have you tried peyote?” Common Aztecs were prohibited to pick peyote under death penalty. Only the Aztec priests had the right to do it.

Fact 10: Cacti are delicious. Some of them really are. For example, slices of the so called candy cactus are favorite food of Mexicans. Some cacti are perfect to make jam of. Some of them are eaten fresh. Some are stewed with meat. Some are salted and pickled. And this list seems to be endless. It’s interesting to note that in the XIX century by crossing many species of cacti breeders raised a new spineless cactus that tasted like orange.

Desert cacti

Speaking about desert cactus species we can name the following: ariocarpus, carnegiea, cephalocereus, cephaloceus, echinocactus, ferocactus, opuntia, and some others.

Types of cactus: Echinocereus subirnemisWhen we hear the word “desert” we usually imagine Sahara or Kara-Kum with their scorching sand-dunes devoid of any vegetation. But the soil of stony deserts of Central and South America is very rich in all necessary salts for cacti. Though its contains very little amount of humus, water dissolves salts and the plant can absorb them.

But if rains are extremely rare here, where does water comes from? Plentiful dews, falling at night and flowing down between ribs of cacti, the night fogs accumulating on prickly stalks – this is a poor water diet of desert types of cactus growing in Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador.

Roots of many cacti of these places are radish-shaped and are capable to save water within, or ramify widely near the surface. To reduce moisture evaporation, cacti aspire to curtail the area of the stalk surface. That’s why they have either spherical or a short cylindrical form.

Desert cactus types are not afraid of burning sun: some of them have thick and dense thin skin, which becomes flat and “hides” in the ground for the period of droughts; some have high sharp ribs causing shade; others are covered with dense prickles or setae, looking like a brush.

For their correct development desert types of cactus require much sun, soil containing little humus and careful watering. They can easily die because of water stagnation in the ground even during summer heat.