Thursday, September 26, 2013


Once upon a time, almost every cactus you see was called a Cereus.  This is generally how plant classification works... It starts very simply.  Water holding desert plants with viscious spines are obviously different from all the other plants, so lets call them the same thing. 

Then, well this spiny plant was obviously a different kind of spiny plant than that one, so you begin sorting them out, and you eventually separate things into groups of genus's of their own, and so on and so forth.  Some of these splits are fairly straightforward... The Giant Saguaro started Cereus giganteus, went to Pilocereus giganteus, and eventually settled into Carnegiea gigantea.  And it's fairly obvious that, say, a Mammillaria is not a Carnegiea.  And some of those Mammillaria are obviously and noticeably different from the others, let's call them Escobaria... etc.

Then science makes an advance, people look at things under their magnifying glasses... then their microscopes, then electron microscopes, then genetic testing comes into play.  All this in the interest of accuracy and making plants easier to ID and actually making it nearly impossible for the average Joe, who let's face it can't reasonably be expected to have an electron microscope laying around gathering dust in the garage, to ID that really cool plant he just bought of the clearance table at Wal-Mart with 100% certainty on his own, so he's relying on the tag stuck to the side of the pot which may or may not be right, because the nursery where the plant came from doesn't have an electron microscope either. 

Let's face it folks... you need a masters degree to understand the language in some of those scientific papers, much less the actual science involved. 

Well, the work separating those cereus types is ongoing, and as more advances happen, will continue.  And some of those diligent little scientists have turned their attention to Opuntia. 

At first, Opuntia seems a fairly straight-forward genus.  Most of them grow in pads or sections.  Most have spines, and at the base of the spine, in the ariole, there are little mini-spines called glochids which are much more troublesome than the spines ever hoped to be.  These are collectively called Prickly Pears.  Some of them are called Cholla.  Most of us can wrap our brains around this pretty easily.

Turns out, not quite as straightforward as we thought.  While, most Opuntia are still Opuntia... it is being split into several genera.  Currently, according to Wikipedia, fifteen genera.  I fully expect more to come... Under the subfamily Opuntioideae, we have:

1.  Austrocylindropuntia (cholla-ish)
2.  Cumulopuntia (cholla-ish.  Actually, even more "ish")
3.  Cylindropuntieae (cholla)
4.  Grusonia (cholla)
5.  Pereskiopsis (most of us wouldn't recognize Pereskiopsis as a prickly pear, or even a cactus)
6.  Quiabentia (another that doesn't even look like a cactus.)
7.  Brasiliopuntia (prickly pear.  A really tall one.  You've probably seen little ones as house plants)
8.  Consolea (prickly pear.)
9.  Milqueliopuntia (stubby cholla)
10.Opuntia (prickly pear)
11.Tacinga (prickly pear)
12. Tunilla (pickly pear)
13. Pterocactus (cholla-ish)
14. Maihueniopsis (prickly pear-ish)
15.Tephrocactus (cholla-ish)

Some sources also list a few others... notable Micropuntia (little chollas) but until everybody straightens themselves out, we're gonna go with what we got. 

Now, all this is complicated by the fact that prickly pears are, as a general rule, highly adaptable and highly variable.  Hence, the plant in the natural habitat, and the plant you have at home may be the same species, but look totally different,  The amount of light, water etc, will all make the plant change it's size, spines, even color.  So it's confusing enough. 

And now, we get to the plant that started all this... It started when a friend of mine bought a prickly pear on the clearance table at Wal-Mart. 

Actually, it was a score.  A really nice one gallon pot full of bright green pads, for five bucks.  I was a little jealous. 

"Where are you gonna put it?" I asked, looking around to the living room windows. 

"In the yard," he answered. 

"You mean on the patio?"

"No.  Out by the garage with that other prickly pear."

"It'll  die!  It won't survive the winter."

"Hell they grow wild in the pasture..."

"Not this kind.  Most prickly pears won't..."

Blank stare.

"It's a damn prickly pear..."

"There are like, a hundred different kinds of prickly pears... and most get killed by a hard frost..."

"Whatever..."  followed by eye-roll. 

So, you're starting to get the idea of why it's kind of important to find out what kind of prickly pear you got...
Anyway, I looked on the side of the pot, and saw the name Opuntia falcate.  I whipped out the smart phone, typed it in and... Nothing. 
So, I took a couple of small juvenile pads, and promised to get back... In case you haven't noticed, cuttings off plants I have to ID is turning into a very convenient way to increase my collection with no investment of money.  Just saying.

They're rooting now... actually, they're very well rooted now and starting to show the first signs of growing.
And here's what I found out... Yes it's a prickly pear.  Obviously.  And no, it's not an Opuntia.   It's a Consolea falcata.  Or possibly a Consolea macracantha... no way of telling till it gets a few blooms on it, which is probably a while off.  Native to the Caribbean islands, it is listed as critically endangered in Haiti, and may not be there anymore.  (there were 10 mature plants on a beach in Haiti before the 2008 hurricane, which may or may not have wiped them out.  So, if anybody is going to Haiti, you're probably going to hit a beach at some point, so it might as well be this beach, so look around, see if there's any cactus and let us know.) 
It seems to produce rather smaller 'juvenile' pads, and look pretty cute, before it puts up longer, round straight growth which grows pads on the end.  The juvenile pads then, over a period of time, waste away.  All of this is pretty far off, but I am sure that it won't survive a winter here, which was really the point, and I won the bet, (FREE PIZZA, WOOOO HOOOO) and got a new plant in the process so I'm doing good...  
Since it's native to Haiti, I'm going to assume that, even though it grows in sandy soil near the beach, it still needs a bit more water than our native prickly pears, and I'll water it whenever it gets dry. 
Next, and totally unrelated, I was over at Julies blog, A Succulent Life, where she was thrilled to find a grasshopper.  While I certainly can't imagine being happy about that, I did promise to take pictures of one of the more handsome species that frequent the yard here if I got a chance.  Well, when I went out to take a pic of the little prickly pear here, lo and behold, look who was sitting on my Rhipsalis cuttings.  Got a pic before I made him leave... Enjoy Julie...
Update... this grasshopper has been ID'd as Schistocerca obscura, commonly known as the Obscure Bird Grasshopper.  I don't know why its called obscure, but there we are...


  1. Oh dang, oh dang, oh dang! Its like the little feller just knew you needed him to model for me!!! How cool was that??? Thanks Claude!!! I just love grasshoppers. We used to play with them here as I gre up, but now it is very rare to ever see one. I like you with stripes! Thanks for taking the pictures!!!
    Cactus and succulent ID'ing has gone by the wayside for me. I don't care enough anymore! Sad for someone with a blog called A Succulent Life. I am thinking of changing the name of my blog. Any good ideas???

  2. Congrats on the win. :)