Science notes

Organpipe Cactus

ORGANPIPE CACTUS - Stenocereus thurberi (Cereus t., Lemaireocereus t., Marshallocereus t., Pilocereus t.): Candelabra Tree, Organ Pipe Cactus, Pitahalla, Pitahaya, Pitahaya Dulce, Pitaya Dulce, Pitayo, Thurber's Haar Kerzencactus Seri: Ool. Maya, Warihio: Mewele. Cochimi: Dammia, Tammia. This is a nightblooming organpipe. It is pollinated by insects and bats. The fruit loses its thorns as it matures. Harvest the abundant edible fruit in June to August just before opening. Use a Cardón rib with a hook to pull the fruit off into a net, or spear it with a sharp point. The plant yields less fruit in wet years. It is an important food where it is abundant. If the fruit is scarce, it can be located by following white winged doves. The most tasty are the fruit that have opened but are not fully red. They taste like watermelon and are called Dammia or Tammia. They contain enough Vitamin C to cure scurvy. Refrigerant. Mix it with water if you like, and eat it raw or cooked, such as in jam or marmalade. Or, first add water. Remove the rind first, or eat it also. The juice can be fed to a newborn. It has been done for eight days, with the infant doing fine. The seeds are always eaten with the fruit because of their small size. They will color the urine red. It can be picked a couple of days early and carried on a trip. The fruit can be sliced and spread on a drying rack made of the ribs of the cactus, peeled, sliced, and dried, turning frequently, for several days. Use the fruit dried to make tamales. The fruit can be used to make wine either with or without added water. Mash the pulp and mix with water, and let it ferment in the sun a few days. Remove the scum. It is ready for drinking. It is low in alcohol content and sours quickly. To make the other kind, which is high in alcohol, knead the pulp and leave in an olla for several days to ferment. The pulp and seeds can be separated from the juice for storage. The juice can be boiled down to make a thick syrup or paste which can be stored; the pulp can be dried and used in jam. The fresh seeds can be ground to form a mealy paste resembling nut butter. They were made into Pozole. The perianth of the flowers and the flowers themselves are also edible. The juice of the plant might be used as a source of water in emergency.

Fresh slabs of the trunk, with the spines removed, were heated in coals and put on aching body parts. Apply the plant fresh to snake bite.

The ribs can be used to make tongs for harvesting the stems of Teddybear Cholla. Two or more ribs, fastened together end to end with a hook on the upper end, can be used to harvest cactus fruit. Ribs bound together were used as torches, or as fuel for metal lanterns. The smoke from their burning was used for smoke signals, and for smoking out bees. They were used in house construction, and to build up the sides of baskets for carrying bigger loads. The plant mixed with animal fat was used as a caulk. Sometimes, Elephanttree was substituted for the Organpipe. The dry cactus, mostly cortex and some pulp, was crushed and pounded until it was nearly a powder, and then thoroughly mixed with a little animal fat. The whole was put in a pot over fire and cooked for several hours, stirred occasionally, and more oil added if needed. When it was about like tar, it was taken off. It was not a very good caulk for boats, but was also used for small holes in pottery. The mashed seeds are used to soften deer skins. The cacti are a good location to put a blind for hunting deer.

Pilocereus sp.: Haar Kerzencactus.

P. houlletii (P. coerulescens, columna, foersteri, glaucescens, C. angulosus): Houllet's Haar Kerzencactus, Organpipe Cactus. The plant is frost-sensitive, but it makes a good ornamental. It grows on rocky slopes. The flowers appear only at night. The fruit is soft and sweet. The seeds are edible. The spines on the fruit come off readily when the fruit is ripe.

Stenocereus marginatus: Organo. The flowers and fruit are both edible. It is a cultivar. It is often planted as a living fence which is impenetrable.

L. littoralis. This is a small species of Pitahaya Dulce. The fruits are delicious.

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