The British Cyclopaedia: Cacteæ (Osa)

The British Cyclopaedia
of the arts, sciences, history, geography, literature, natural history and biography; copiously illustrated by engravings on wood and steel by eminent artists.
Edited by Charles F. Partington, professor of mechanical philosphy, author of various works on natural and experimental philosophy, &c., assisted by authors of eminence in the various departments of science.
Complete in ten volumes.
Volume VI.
Natural history.
London: WM. S. Orr and Co., Amen Corner, Paternoster Row.

One of the most important plants of the order is the Cactus cochinellifer, or Opuntia coccifera, the spineless cochineal fig. This is a large shrub nine feet high, bearing red edible berries, which are said to possess diuretic properties. It is cultivated extensively in the West India islands as food for the cochineal. The plantations of this cactus are called in Mexico Nopaleries, from the Indian name of the plant. The cochineal (Coccus cacti of Linnaeus) is a homopterous insect, not unlike the mealbug of our gardens. The male insect is winged; the female alone is used as a dye. There are two kinds of cochineal, which are reputed to feed on different species of cacti. One of these, the wild or common cochineal, is covered with a silky envelop, and is not so valuable as the fine or cultivated cochineal, which has a powdery or mealy covering. The female insects, after feeding on the cacti for three or four months, are brushed off by means of a squirrel's or deer's tail, and are then killed by exposure either to the sun or to the vapour of hot water. When dried they are exported in large quantities for the purpose of furnishing a rich scarlet dye. The colouring matter is extracted easily by water, alcohol, or harts horn. It is stated that 800,000 pounds of cochineal are annually brought to Europe; each pound containing about 70,000 insects. The annual consumption in Great Britain alone is estimated at 150,000 pounds, worth 275,000l. sterling, a vast amount, as has been observed, for so small a creature, and well calculated to show us the absurdity of despising any animal on account of its minuteness. Cochineal possesses stimulating properties. It was formerly used as an anodyne in hooping-cough, but is now employed sº for the purpose of colouring tinctures and lip Salves.

Opuntia vulgaris, or Cactus opuntia, is found growing abundantly between Rome and Naples. It bears a berry of a deep purple colour. Its prickly leaves abound in a mucilaginous matter, which is used as an emollient poultice in some countries.


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