|Copyright: Aimilios Petrou (Aimilios) (244)|
|Date Taken: 2006-08-21|
|Exposure: f/4, 1/250 seconds|
|More Photo Info: [view]|
|Photo Version: Original Version|
|Theme(s): Plants to Know [view contributor(s)]|
|Date Submitted: 2007-01-23 6:00|
|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian Fig Opuntia) is a species of cactus and a long-domesticated crop plant important in agricultural economies throughout arid and semiarid parts of the world. Indian Fig Opuntia is grown primarily as a fruit crop, but also for the vegetable nopals and other uses. Most culinary references to the "prickly pear" are referring to this plant. The name "tuna" is also used for this cactus, and for Opuntia in general (according to Alexander von Humboldt, it was a word of Haitian origin taken into the Spanish language around 1500).|
Opuntia ficus-indica is a crop species that figures prominently in the modern folklore of ethnobotany. Opuntioid cacti are recognized as ideal crops for arid regimes because they are extremely efficient at converting water into biomass. Opuntia ficus-indica, one of several long-domesticated cactus species, is the most widespread and economically important of these cactus crops, as important as corn and tequila agave in the agricultural economy of modern Mexico. The facile hybridization of Opuntia is very well documented; this genus is among the most interspecifically promiscuous plants, perhaps rivaled only by Quercus (oak) in this regard. The relative ease of vegetative propagation of Opuntia is demonstrated by its occasional clonal dominance of certain areas. This aspect of Opuntia marks it as a noxious weed in some places. This ease of clonal propagation was probably not lost on the very early human population of the New World. Evidence exists for the use of Opuntia as human food at least 9,000 years before the present or even as early as 12,000 years ago, probably before cultivation.
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