Family, Cactus. Color, pale yellow. Sepals, indefinite. Petals, about 8, united with the sepals into a short tube, which is attached to the top of the 1-celled ovary. Flowers, about 2 inches broad. Stamens, many, their filaments long and slender. Pistil, 1, forming in fruit a fleshy, pear-shaped, edible berry, 1 inch long. Leaves, very small, pale green, 1/5 inch long, awl-shaped, with barbs or prickles in their axils, arranged spirally on the fleshy, flattened, jointed stems.
The flowers lie close to the flattened branches. Clusters of short, greenish-yellow bristles underlie them and spring up in the leaf - axils. The branches grow irregularly out of one another, 2 to 4 inches long, oval in shape.
0. Rafinesquii - This is the only other Eastern species, with longer jointed, deeper green branches, and larger flowers and fruit. The flowers often have a reddish center. Bristles reddish brown, otherwise much like the last.
Both species grow on sandy soil or on flat rocks. Among the hills of New Jersey they attain great perfection, the pedestrian coming sometimes upon a large, flat rock covered, with the yellow beauties basking in the direct heat which they love so well. They are also found near the shore from Nantucket to South Carolina, in sandy soil.
The cactus is essentially a desert plant, adapted by its habit of patient, slow growth, its succulent branches wherein moisture is stored, and its leathery skin and few breathing-pores which prevent evaporation, for life in arid regions, where nothing else can grow.
Some species bear edible, luscious fruit. Upon one - a native of Mexico - the cochineal insect is fed, giving rise to a large industry. In Arizona the fruit of one species of cactus is thrown into the fire till the bristles are burned off. It is then chopped open and fed to cattle. So juicy is this fruit that it supplies drink as well as food for the animals in places where water is often scarce and procured with difficulty. The famous night-blooming cereus is a cactus.