Prickly Pear in America.
In some recently published Consular reports of the United States the following interesting paragraph on the nopal, or prickly pear (Opuntia cochinillifera) occurs: "The plant abounds in the whole territory of Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, and extends much further north. It has flat oval leaves, about six inches long and nearly half an inch thick, covered by long sharp thorns, and bears a fruit of a purple color resembling a pear, filled with numerous small seeds. The plant grows from three to six feet high. Its fruit is eaten freely by cattle, and the leaves, after having been burnt in a fire to get rid of the thorns, are thrown by the cartmen in place of fodder to their oxen by means of a long sharp-pointed stick, especially when on a road where there is no grass. It also makes an excellent hedge, and once planted will last for ever. There is another species of nopal called nopal de castilla, which has no thorns, and which is cultivated for the sake of its fruit. This nopal has much larger leaves than the wild species, and grows to the height of ten and twenty feet, and the fruit is much larger. Of this species there are a great many different kinds, each having its distinct name. They are of different colors—green, red, yellow, white, and purple. The fruit is delicious, and in the interior of Mexico forms one of the principal means of sustenance for the inhabitants. From the purple tuna a liquid is made called colonche, and a sort of sweet cheese (queso de tuna). There is a small red tuna growing wild in the mountains near to Zacatecas, called cardona, which is highly prized on account of its fine flavor and digestible qualities, and several cartloads of which are sold daily in Zacatecas. They are sold at six cents for four dozen. Besides serving for food for men and beasts, its leaves form die food of the cochineal insect."—Phar. Jour. and Trans., June 27, 1885; from The Gardener's Chronicle, June 20.
NOTE BY THE EDITOR.—The Mexican Pharmacopoeia describes a product of these plants under the designation of goma de nopal, also improperly called tragacanto del país. It is produced by different Mexican species of Opuntia, such as O. Tuna, Hiller, O. rosea, De Cand., O. Hernandezii, De C., and others, the plants being called nochtli in Mexico, pari in Tarasco, raquette by the French and nopal by the English and Spaniards. The gum is in vermicular or roundish pieces, horn-like, yellowish white, translucent or opaque and insipid. Immersed in water it swells, becomes white, does, not form a mucilage and leaves a farinaceous residue. With iodine it becomes blackish blue. The microscope reveals groups of thin needle-shaped crystals of calcium oxalate, by the presence of which this gum is easily recognized if used for adulterating tragacanth. It is employed for similar purposes as the latter.
Nopalillo, Opuntia Nopalillo, Karwins, is a Mexican cactus, of which the root is employed in the form of infusion, in dysentery, diarrhoea, haemoptysis and metrorrhagia.