Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cacti and cupcakes

What you may you ask have cacti in connection with those rather sickly looking items of cakery?  I decline to call them patisserie which is much more refined. Anyway I am digressing before I start!

In my front yard here in Palm Springs we have two fine clumps of prickly pear - Opuntia of some sort. They grow superbly here in the desert and are part of many landscape schemes in ordinary gardens. I rather like them and they flower prolifically in the spring each year. And hey - they are just as colourful as cupcakes!

Those of you that have stayed the course may recall that I painted them back last spring. I entered the painting of the yellow one in the Painter of the Year competition locally but the juror didn't have a good word to say about it. Public critique - very humbling! It sold however and hangs in a very nice apartment in Chicago, so I am inclined to think that the purchaser had more taste than the juror had wisdom but that's my opinion. I'm digressing again!

Back to the plot - recently I noticed that one of the clumps of opuntia had a severe infestation of a pest that covers itself in a woolly coating, rather  like mealy bug or woolly aphid. In the case of opuntia,  it is a scale insect called the cochineal and immediately those of you that are more mature will recognise the link with cup cakes. Cochineal insects produce carminic acid that was for many years used as a dye and red food colouring. Although it lost popularity in the 19C, it is being increasingly used again as a product with less safety issues that synthetic dyes. 

However, not wishing to make my own food colourings or go into dye manufacturing I decided that I needed to free my opuntias from their stifling cocoon of white fluff. Avoiding pesticides in this instance, I opted for a garden hose and the jet setting which neatly cleaned off most of the infestation leaving a snow-like frosting over the desert gravel.  I guess I may have to repeat the treatment but it was much easier than mixing and spraying pesticides. Stupidly I forgot to take a picture before the treatment but you can get the idea from the above internet pic - messy creatures! The picture below is after the deluge.

Thinking of Opuntias reminds me of an experience as a small child. We had visited an uncle, a brother of my father's and I had been given an opuntia as a gift - one of those with the little pads of tiny prickles that look like velvet - little did I know! In order to transport this plant safely home, my father tucked it into one of my wellington boots. Well you can guess the rest of the saga and know why I remember it to this day!


  1. I have to say those are a couple of the best looking opuntia I've seen, just gorgeous. As for the boot story, OMG! Were you ever able to wear them again?

  2. The real plants and the paintings both look good! As for the boot story...ouch!!