Monday, 18 January 2010

Pitaya?

It has been a busy weekend.   At least the weather wasn't too hard on the vegetables.  There was no rain,  but it wasn't overly hot either.  It should be hot again after tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

This morning I went outside quite early to see how it is all going.  The front yard...


Nick made a path for meditative walking down to the side fence.  It has been a lovely place in recent years,  but this spring (while I was not around)  it has been obliterated with fallen leaves and spent watsonia plants.  It was originally marked by white rocks so well that you could even see it at night,  as long as the moon was out.  Well,  the stones are still there, and I have been raking leaves, and exposing Nick's path and some of the old ones as well.
There is also an old table and chairs at the end of the main pathway....  the smokers' spot!

There are two different varieties of these large cactuses.  Both of them produce large white flowers that you wouldn't be able to tell apart without the actual plant available.  Here are both,  quite close together...


They are quite different in both shape,  prickles and colour.

Here is a new clump beginning...  it is the bluish, larger and more sparsely prickled variety.

...  it is growing where a large old limb fell over... close to a fallen aloe plant as well.
The dead brown litter is all that remains of a patch of watsonia also.

The large white flowering cactuses not only produce wonderful perfumed flowers,  but after the flower is gone,  some of them have produced fruit as well...  these are the fruits of the smaller, greener and more densely prickled one.

... the fruits grow at the base of the flower, presumably where the ovary of the flower is and once it is fertilised,  as not all flowers produce the fruits, though just under half do.
I saw these last year, for the first time.  I first noticed that there were ants raiding them.  I didn't look all that closely at first (mistake!) as I thought that the ants might merely be after the water.  In fact this is very much like the first one that I found...

... a bit "past it."
Last year I asssumed that, being night flowering, it would require a moth to fertilise the flowers,  rather than bees.
I have been "googling"  all kinds of cactus plants  I have found out a few things... and, while some of these look very different,  it is some kind of pitaya.   I have also been reading about pollination and fruits.    Most of these cactus flowers are supposed to be pollinated by bats.
We have bats here,  and they are different from the ones that people are familiar with.  Sitting out at night,  one hears them, especially when insects are clustering around a light....  but we don't see them.  The only one that  I have found close to here was a tiny fragile creature that was caught on my windscreen when I drove home late one night.  It died after I arrived home... and I felt awful.  I don't know what kind it was,  but I did find this reference to a tiny bat.  I will be out looking for for them... we may have some that are cactus flower pollinators!
I still don't know whether this is the means of fertilisation,   or whether the bees that do attend the flowers during the day (despite the dilapidated state of the flowers once morning arrives) are an agent here. (Remembering that less than half of the flowers produce fruit... though that seems to be increasing.)
And then the fruit....
....this fruit appears to be hairy rather than "scaly" and all of "my" fruits are pale greenish yellow.
The first one that I tried is here....  this was a few days ago....

.. as I opened it,  it became apparent that it is a "berry"  with seeds scattered randomly inside the fruit.  I tasted it, of course,  and it tastes very much like a Chinese gooseberry (known as kiwi fruit nowadays.)

Today I went out to see if there were any more.  They seem to split when it rains,  and when I thought about that, it seems sensible...  seeds would be more likely to be distributed when the soil is wet!  (Clever plants!)
I collected these six fruits.  The one at the bottom,  that looks slightly different came from the plant with the red flowers, rather than the white one.



I cut them all....


... picked out the crappy bits and here is the tiny yield....

... amazing.   I am becoming very interested in how to make use of the plants that grow well here.
The prickly pear plants along the sides of the roads around here are getting ready to produce fruit as well.  Not only are the fruits useful,  but the "pads" are used as a vegetable in Mexico and central America.
This is my next garden vegetable to investigate, and I found this... a recipe for cooking these and even a picture of the implements one needs for dealing with the prickly pads.

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