The prickly pear plant
It is a tree plant that can reach 3 to 5 meters high. His organization in cladodes, commonly called “rackets”, is special. The cladodes are modified rods of flattened shape, 30 to 40 cm long and 15 to 25 cm wide and 1.5 to 3 cm thick. United to each other, they tend to form branches. Those at the base become lignified to form a veritable trunk beyond the fourth year of growth.
These cladodes provide chlorophyllous function in place of leaves, and are covered with a cuticle, which limits transpiration and protects against predators.
The leaves have a conical shape and are only a few millimeters long. They appear on young cladodes and are ephemeral.
At the base of the leaves are the areoles (about 150 per cladode) which are modified axillary buds, typical of Cactaceae. Their meristem, as the case may be, produces thorns and glochids, or emits adventitious roots, new cladodes, or flowers. Note that even the ovary and therefore the fruit is covered with areolae that may emit flowers or roots again.
The spines proper, whitish, sclerified, solidly implanted, are 1 to 2 cm long. There are unarmed varieties without thorns.
The glochids, thin spines of a few millimeters, of brownish color, unhook easily, but equipped with tiny scales in the form of hooks are firmly implanted in the skin and are very difficult to remove. They break easily when trying to remove them. They are always present even in unarmed varieties.
The root system is superficial, concentrating in the first 30 cm of soil, but on the other hand very extensive.
Opuntia ficus-Indica flower.
The flowers are usually differentiated on one-year-old cladodes, usually on the areoles at the top of the cladode or on the face most exposed to the sun. In principle, only one flower appears in each areola. The young flowers have ephemeral leaves characteristic of the species. A fertile cladode can carry up to thirty flowers, but this number varies enormously according to the position of the cladode on the plant, its exposure, and also according to physiological factors (nutrition).
Fruit, or prickly pear.
The fruit, or prickly pear, is a fleshy, unilocular, multi-seeded (polyspermic) berry whose weight can vary from 150 to 400 g1. It derives from the inferior ovary adhering to the floral receptacle. Some authors consider it a false aril. Its color is variable according to the varieties: yellow, red, white … The form is also very variable, not only according to the varieties but also according to the time of formation: the first ones are rounded, the later ones have more an elongated form of peduncle . The number of seeds is very high; of the order of 3
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