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Home - Use - Prickly Pear Cactus - Natural history


Reproduction by fragmentation
photo: Jorge Lasron

Reproduction by seed
Photo: Jorge Larson

Some authors show that, due to seasonal changes caused by global climate change that affects the adaptation and productivity of natural ecosystems, prickly pear can be successfully grown on much of the surface of the land, especially in arid and semi-arid regions or in those that are about to become arid. This is because it is one of the few plants with a specialized photosynthetic mechanism that makes it three times more efficient than any grass or legume at converting water into dry matter. Moreover, their relatively low anthropogenic energy requirements can facilitate their incorporation into modern models of agricultural production.

Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus), known to producers as cochineal grain, is a parasitic insect the females of which have been economically important since pre-Columbian times as a source of carminic acid, a red dye used in the pharmaceutical, textile and food industries. Some species of prickly pear are planted in order to cultivate this insect. Cochineal reproduction is rapid: at 36 days old and following fertilization, the female begins to spawn around 160 eggs. Damage to the leaves and fruits is located at the base of the spines, and forms a cotton-like scale which reduces fruit quality and may induce them to fall prematurely.

Another of the main pests that affect the prickly pear is the prickly pear weevil (Cactophagus spinolae). They feed on the edges of the young pads and the females lay their eggs on the lower parts of the plant and on well protected sites in the leaves. Damage by this pest can be detected by an accumulation of gummy secretions, initially yellow and then turning black. This pest causes decreased production and, in extreme cases, death of the plant.

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