02/09/2013

THE SEX LIFE OF CACTI

We have a lot of cacti in Tenerife of all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of ferocity. I see this thirty-foot-tall one on my morning walk - this week it was in exuberant flower.

There is even a Cactus Park where you can learn how some cacti protect themselves with vicious spikes while others use toxins to deter predators – very wise in a climate where they are often the only succulent vegetable food around.
 
This one is called Silla de Suegra – Mother-in-law’s Chair, which proves that those so-called jokes are universal.
We can buy cactus fruit too, though
I don’t like the bland taste or the multiple seeds, and there’s cactus jam and even cactus liquor.
The fruits pictured above mainly come from the huge palmate cacti that were once cultivated for, believe it or not, the insects that still infest them – cochineal.
At one time this was a thriving industry here, and I understand that many of what appear to be wild cacti may still belong to a particular family. Now most of our red food colouring is artificially produced – not many people like the idea of putting crushed insects into their food – but the fruit is still harvested with leather gloves, shaved with a disposable razor and eaten or sold.

But I have rarely seen any sign of fruit or even seed pods on other cacti. They produce beautiful flowers, but why? Presumably to attract insects, but how do they reproduce?
Perhaps the answer is the same as to the question, “How do hedgehogs make love?”
                                           Carefully.


8 comments:

  1. Cacti do indeed have exuberant flowers - never seem to go with the plant do they?

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  2. That's a lot of cacti knowledge! :-)

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  3. I quite like the flavour of the prickly pear (palmate); it tastes like bubblegum! :-)

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  4. Ahah! Very carefully indeed! Especially after a few glasses of Cactus liqueur which hides the fact it is alcoholic by its sweetness.

    Cacti are just like any other plant: they bud, they flower, produce seedpods. Sometimes the pods explode, scattering seed far and wide. Some cactus plants grow from root expansion, others are more hard graft.

    I used to grow and sell Cactus plants when I lived in Spain. They are fascinating plants.

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  5. I like the MIL's chair, Liz! Fascinating, aren't they - possibly because they are so alien and extravagant. Not to mention dangerous. We had some bizarre cactus down south, and some very young wild kittens tried to shelter under it in a thunderstorm. They got all the little spikes in their faces, and one was blinded in one eye. After that we cut the whole thing down.

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  6. Thank you for the nature lesson Mike. And what a horrid fate your kittens suffered - one of my friends actually fell into a cactus once - walking home drunk so I tempered sympathy with laughter.

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  7. I've never considered the love-life of a cactus before! My Mum used to collect cacti. She kept them on the windowsill in the living room but all our dusters ended up with tiny prickles in them and in the end she got rid of the plants.

    That mother-in-law's seat made me laugh... except that I'm now a mother-in-law. I hope I'm not viewed that way behind my back!! I used to have a plant called a mother-in-law's tongue but it grew so tall that it kept falling over. I wonder if there are any other mother-in-law plant names.

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  8. I'll never forget walking through the garden center with my five year old, and having to pluck dozens of prickers out of her hand afterward.
    Cacti are lovely to look at, though. No question about it.

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