Cochineal Cactus
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Cochineal Cactus
ntroduced Photo: Thingnam Girija
Common name: Cochineal Cactus, Velvet Opuntia, Wooly Joint Prickly Pear, Nopales opuntia, Nopal cactus
Botanical name: Opuntia cochenillifera     Family: Cactaceae (Cactus family)
Synonyms: Nopalea cochenillifera, Cactus cochenillifer

Cochineal Cactus is a Mexican cactus which has thornless, pleasant to touch thick leaves. During summer hot day leaves warm up and their touch reminds of a warm hand touch. Its species name cochenillifera derives from the cochineal insects which live on this cactus. The bright red body fluids of the insects are the source of the much sought after cochineal dye. Cochineal is the name of the crimson or carmine dye, once a major industry. This cactus can be grown as a shrub, and may look atractive, and the spines won't do much harm since they are tiny and soft. On the fruits (and the ovaria too, the green part below the flowers), however, they are rigid, and tend to stick on you and penetrate in your skin. The flowers are the good part of this plant. Bright red to crimson, with many very short petals, tubular, lots of stamens coming out of the tube and a long pistil. The flowers look like tubular buds, as if they are yet to open, but that's how they remain.

Identification credit: Tabish Photographed at MasihGarh Church, Sukhdev Vihar, Delhi.
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