This name is now restricted to two or three dwarf branching Brazilian epiphytal plants of extreme beauty, which agree with Phyllocactus in having the branches dilated into the form of fleshy leaves, but differ in haying them divided into short truncate leaf-like portions, which are articulated, that is to say, provided with a joint by which they separate spontaneously; the margins are crenate or dentate, and the flowers, which are large and showy, magenta or crimson, appear at the apex of the terminal joints. In E. truncatum the flowers have a very different aspect from that of other Cacti, from the mouth of the tube being oblique and the segments all reflexed at the tip. The short separate pieces of which these plants are made up grow out of each other, so that the branches may be said to resemble leaves joined together endwise.
Rhipsalis, a genus of about 50 tropical species, mainly in Central and South America, but a few in tropical Africa and Madagascar. It is a very heterogeneous group, being fleshy-stemmed with a woody axis, the branches being angular, winged, flattened or cylindrical, and the flowers small, short-tubed, succeeded by small, round, pea-shaped berries. Rhipsalis Cassytha, when seen laden with its white berries, bears some resemblance to a branch of mistletoe. All the species are epiphytal in habit.
Opuntia, the prickly pear, or Indian fig cactus, is a large typical group, comprising some 150 species, found in North America, the West Indies, and warmer parts of South America, extending as far as Chile. In aspect they are very distinct from any of the other groups. They are fleshy shrubs, with rounded, woody stems, and numerous succulent branches, composed in most of the species of separate joints or parts, which are much compressed, often elliptic or suborbicular, dotted over in spiral lines with small, fleshy, caducous leaves, in the axils of which are placed the areoles or tufts of barbed or hooked spines of two forms. The flowers are mostly yellow or reddish-yellow, and are succeeded by pear-shaped or egg-shaped fruits, having a broad scar at the top, furnished on their soft, fleshy rind with tufts of small spines. The sweet, juicy fruits of O. vulgaris and O. Tuna are much eaten under the name of prickly pears, and are greatly esteemed for their cooling properties. Both these species are extensively cultivated for their fruit in Southern Europe, the Canaries and northern Africa; and the fruits are not unfrequently to be seen in Covent Garden Market and in the shops of the leading fruiterers of the metropolis.
O. vulgaris is hardy in the south of England.
The cochineal insect is nurtured on a species of Opuntia (O. coccinellifera), separated by some authors under the name of Nopalea, and sometimes also on O. Tuna. Plantations of the nopal and the tuna, which are called nopaleries, are established for the purpose of rearing this insect, the Coccus Cacti, and these often contain as many as 50,000 plants. The females are placed on the plants about August, and in four months the first crop of cochineal is gathered, two more being produced in the course of the year. The native country of the insect is Mexico, and it is there more or less cultivated; but the greater part of our supply comes from Colombia and the Canary Islands.
Peireskia aculeata, or Barbadoes gooseberry, the Cactus peireskia of Linnaeus, differs from the rest in having woody stems and leaf-bearing branches, the leaves being somewhat fleshy, but otherwise of the ordinary laminate character. The flowers are subpaniculate, white or yellowish. This species is frequently used as a stock on which to graft other Cacti. There are about a dozen species known of this genus, mainly Mexican.