Origins: Opuntia Ficus Indica is native to Mexico. From here, in antiquity, it spread among the people of Central America who cultivated and traded in the Aztec times, where it was considered a sacred plant with strong symbolic values. A testimony to the importance of this plant in trade is provided by the Mendoza Code. This code includes a representation of Opuntia's trunks along with other tributes such as ocelot and jaguar skins. The carmine, a precious natural dye for which production is required to cultivate Opuntia, is also listed among the goods traded by the Aztecs.
The plant arrived in the Old World probably around 1493, the year of the return to Lisbon of Christopher Columbus's expedition. However, the first detailed description dates back to 1535, by Spanish Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and Valdés in his Historia general y natural de las indias. Linneo, in its Plantarum Species (1753), described two different species: Cactus opuntia and C. ficus-indica. It was Miller, in 1768, to define the species Opuntia ficus-indica, a denomination still officially accepted.
Description: It is a succulent arborescent plant that can reach 3-5 m in height.
The stem is composed of cladodes, commonly known as blades: they are modified stems, flattened and oval shaped, long 30 to 40 cm, wide 15 to 25 cm and 1.5 to 3.0 cm thick, which, joining each of them forms ramifications. Cladodes ensure chlorophylline photosynthesis, by substituting the function of the leaves. They are covered with a wax cuticle that limits perspiration and is a barrier against predators. The basal cladodes, around the fourth year of growth, are bound to lignification, creating a real trunk.
The real leaves have a conical shape and are only a few millimeters long. They appear on young claddys and are ephemeral. At the base of the leaves are the areoles (about 150 per cladode) that are modified arthrosis, typical of the Cactaceae.
The meristematic fabric of the azole can be differentiated, as appropriate, into thorns and glochides, or it can give rise to adventitious roots, new cladodes or flowers. It should be noted that also the flower recipe, and therefore the fruit, is covered by areolas from which different flowers and roots can be differentiated.
The proper sockets are whitish, sclerotized, solidly implanted, 1 to 2 cm long. There are also varieties of helpless Opuntia, without thorns.
The glochis are thin, long, spinous, few millimeter spines, which are easily detached from the plant to the contact but are provided with tiny hooks in the shape of a hook, are implanted solidly in the skin and are very difficult to extract as they break easily when trying to remove them. They are always present, even in the unhealthy varieties.
The root system is superficial, generally does not exceed 30 cm deep in the ground, but in contrast is very extensive.
The flowers are ovary and unilocular. The pistil is surmounted by a multiple sting. The stamens are very numerous. The sepals are unobtrusive as the petals are well visible and yellow-orange.
Fruit: The fruit is a fleshy, unilocular berry with several seeds (polispermica), whose weight can range from 150 to 400 g. It derives from the ovary hell adhering to the flower recipe. Certain authors consider it a false arillus. The color is different depending on the varieties: yellow-orange in the sulfarnin variety, purple red in the blood and white variety in the muscaredda. The shape is also very variable, not only according to the varieties but also in relation to the time of formation: the first fruits are rounded, the later ones have an elongated shape and peduncle. Each fruit contains a large number of seeds, in the order of 300 for a fruit of 160 g. Very sweet, the fruits are edible and have a great flavor. Once peeled and peeled off you can keep it in the fridge and eat cold.