Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Queen's Wreath and Cactus

I decided to walk a bit outside today as I was becoming stir crazy and I hadn't yet been on crutches outside.  Hopefully the crutches won't be around too terribly long but the pain in the bionic leg was getting a little strong. (Hence the slightly crabby entry about unemployment from a few days ago)  I decided to take my little digital camera and wandered across the street to take photos of the neighbors cochineal-ridden cactus and Queen's Wreath. 

I hadn't seen Queen's Wreath until I moved to San Antonio when a teenager.  There is was called Queen's Crown, which seems to be either a family thing or a local thing (It appears to be more local, as one of the web sites I looked at had people from San Antonio and Sequin calling it that).   Up here it's and from what I could find on the Internet it's called Queen's Wreath or Coral Vine.  The Latin name of it is Antigonon leptopus.   It's a beautiful vine covers everything and is pretty drought tolerant.  I'm going to try to take some cuttings and root them for our fence over here.  Bees love it as well as butterflies.  The tubers are supposed to be edible which I'd be willing to try if I could dig right now.  It's got a bunch of other names and in some states is considered an invasive weed.  Since it's a native of Mexico I imagine it crept up here on it's own or people planted it and it naturalized.  I've only seen it in older neighborhoods but not in the wild.   On a side note, a relative of this plant shows up in a Miss Marple story by Agatha Christie.  The name of the exact mystery escapes me.

The white fuzzy stuff on the cactus isn't mold as one of my neighbor thought.  It's a Cochineal bug see this link
It makes a really nice red dye.  I'm gonna go ask to get some.  I've dyed with it before.  It makes a really intense red dye on the blue side.  (Not a tomato red but more of a magenta red.  You have to be careful when picking it off some cactus.  It the cactus seems to have thorns they hurt when they stab you. (Personal experience).  There is a related bug that is used for the same purpose in Europe called kermes.  The bug makes a cottony spot to hide or keep cool but generally people think the cactus is moldy. 

The last picture is a cactus tuna or fruit.  They also can be eaten or turned into a dye.  You get a pretty tasteless pink jelly that is very sweet (from the sugar more than anything).  I don't particularly care for the jelly.  I have never eaten it fresh.  you have to be really careful when pulling them off since the tunas have tiny blond prickles that hurt like crap if you get them on you.  A lot of people singe them off over a gas burner or put them in a colander and rise the hell out of them.  Prickly pears are also called Opuntia and there are a lot of varieties of them.  This particular one is the more ornamental spineless variety but it still has the tiny prickles. 

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