Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Place of the Ptickly Pear

With Bill being on vacation I've been having to run to our allotment almost daily to try and keep down the weeds and water the veggies. Saturday was an intensely hot day but thankfully there was a cool breeze that would suddenly buffet me as I stood in the glaring sun with feet getting increasingly wetter due to a leaking hose nozzle. The weeds were definitely getting the upper hand, obviously doing very nicely with the constant watering from me. I soaked everything on our plot and also sprayed our neighbor's patch as we'd agreed to look out for each other's plants when the rain refused to water them.
Once the veggies and my feet were completely saturated, I walked back to the car and unstrapped my bike. I had my camera with me and thought I'd take a cycle ride around the arboretum to take in a different perspective.
One thing I've always loved about this place is the bird song. I've never heard so many different calls as when I'm at Blandy. Today was no different, the red wing blackbirds and mockingbirds were all extremely vocal, especially the blackbirds as I think they're all busy guarding nests at the moment. I got shooed out of a field of very pretty orange flowers and then while riding around by the water areas they flew back and forth over my head.
I tried to sit by one of the small ponds, hoping to catch a shot of the dragon flies but after about 10 minutes I'd had enough. The sun was too powerful and I felt too vulnerable. The heat was beating down on my skull and the back of my neck, it was just too uncomfortable.
I got back on the bike and pedaled towards the trees. It was a great workout, lots of bumps and hillocks covered in thick grass. I pushed through trying to stay in the shade as much as possible, following stone walls and fences rather than the roads.
I hadn't really seen anything that had warranted a great photo until I cycled down a hill with a squirrel scampering alongside me until the treeline disappeared and there in the grass were some stony outcrops with cacti blooming. The flowers were gorgeous! I discovered later that they were prickly pear cacti. I'd seen the leaves many times in the couple of years I've been coming here, but I'd never been lucky enough to see them bloom, or actually even considered that there would be flowers.
The plants are also edible, the pads, or leaves, can be cooked and treated as a vegetable, and the flower petals can be added to salads. I didn't have the heart to pull these beautiful creations apart, I only wanted photos. Once the flowering finishes, the fruits form and these are apparently best if made into a candy or jelly. I'll have to keep an eye out for those September through November.
The cactus is supposed to be high in amino acids and fiber, magnesium, iron and vitamin B. It can also be used to treat diabetes, sunburn, bruises and stomach issues.
Farmers in Mexico used the plants as a border around their property while in central Africa the juice from the pads is used as an effective mosquito repellent. I might have to actually try that one.
But although this is a beautiful and evidently very useful plant, some have suffered from side effects after consuming the nopal, as it's also referred to. Diarrhea, headache and nausea have been experienced while there are also some who are allergic to it. Still, I may have a go at trying it as a mosquito repellent. And there's even an old fable featuring the plant.
I was so pleased that I'd come across these cacti, not likely if I'd just been walking, so I've decided to bring my bike here more often to explore further. It seemed that I had achieved something worthwhile this day, so to celebrate I went back to the allotment and gave all of our plants, and my feet, another soaking!

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