Page images
PDF
EPUB

the insects and birds. · Wherever the cotton cochineal propagates of itself, it is not to be found in any abundance, from which we may easily conceive that the mealy cochineal must have been still more rare in its native country, because it is much more delicate, and not being covered with down, is more sensible to the cold and 'humidity of the air. In discussing the question, whether the fine, cochineal would propagate without the care of man, the subdelegate of the province of Oaxaca, Ruiz de Montaya*, cites a very remarkable fact in his memoir, 66 that at seven

leagues distance from the village of Nexapa, “ there is a place, where, favoured by parti. “ cular circumstances, the most beautiful grana fina is to be found, on very high and very prickly - wild nopals, without any pains hav

ingever been bestowed in cleaning the “ plants, or in renewing the offspring of the " cochineal.” Besides, we are not to be astonished that even in a country where this animal is indigenous, it should seldom be found in a wild state," from the time that it began to be in request among the inhabitants, and to be reared in nopaleries. It is probable that the Toultecs, before undertaking so troublesome a species of cultivation, collected the fine cochineal on the nopals,

* Gazeta de Literatura de Mexico, 1794, p. 228.

which grew spontaneously on the sides of the mountains of Oaxaca. Gathering the females before” laying, the species would soon be destroyed; and to obviate this progressive destruction, and prevent the mixture of the cotton and mealy cochineals on the same cactus, (the former depriving the latter of all nourishment), nopaleries were established by the natives.

The plants on which the two species of cochineal are propagated, are essentially different; and this undoubted fact is one of those which indicate a primitive and specific difference between the grana fina, and the grana silvestre. Is it probable, if the mealy cochineal was merely a variety of the cotton .cochineal, that it would perish on the same cactus which serves for nourishment to the latter, and which botanists designate by the names of cactus opuntia, C. tuna, and C. ficus indica ? M. Thiery, in the work already frequently referred to by us *, asserts, that in the plain of Cul-de Sac in Saint Domingo,

Domingo, the cottoncochineal does not live on the cactus tuna, but on the C. pereskia, which he classes among the articulated Indian figs. I am afraid that this naturalist has confounded a variety of opuntia, with the true pereskia, which is a tree with large and thick leaves, and on which I never yet found any cochineal. I look upon

* P, 275-282.

it also as extremely doubtful, that the plant called by Linneus cactus coccinellifer, cultivated in Europe, is the nopal on which the Indians of Oaxaca rear the mealy cochineal. M. Decandolle *, who has thrown much light on this subject, appears to be of my opinion ; for he cites the wild nopal of Thiery de Menonville, as synonymous with the cochineal Indian fig, which is entirely different from that of the plantations. In fact, Linneus gave the name of cactus coccinellifer to the Indian fig, with which several botanical gardens of Europe had received the cotton-cochineal, a species with a purple flower (Ficus Indica vermiculos proferens of Plukenet), which grows wild in Jamaica, the island of Cuba, and almost every where in the Spanish Colonies of the Continent. I have shewn this cactus to well-informed per. sons, who had carefully examined the nopale, ries of Oaxaca, and they have uniformly told me that the nopal of the plantations is essen. tially different from it, and that the latter, as is also affirmed by M. Thiery, is never to be found in a wild state. Moreover, the Abbe Clavigero † who lived five years in Misteca, expressly says, that the fruit of the nopal on which the fine cochineal is reared, is small, in. sipid, and white, while the fruit of the cactus

* Plantes grasses de M. M. Redouté et Decandolle, livrai

son, 24.

+ T. i. p. 115.

coccinellifer is red. The celebrated Ulloa ad. vances in his works that the true nopal is. without prickles; but he appears to have confounded. this .plant with an Indian fig, which we have frequently found in the gardens (conucos) of the Indians of Mexico and Peru, and which the creoles, on account of its gigantic size, the excellence of its fruits, and the beauty of its articulations, which are of a blueish green, and destitute of prickles, designate by the name of tuna de Castilla.

This nopal, the most elegant of all the opuntia, is in fact, fit for the nourishment of the mealy. cochineal, especially after its birth, but it is seldom to be found in the nopaleries of Oaxaca. If according to the opinion of several distinguished naturalists, the tuna or nopal de Castilla, is but a variety of the ordinary .cactus opuntia, originating in cultivation, we must be surprized that the Indian figs caltivated for centuries in our botanical gardens, and those of the nopaleries of New Spain, have never in the same manner lost the prickles, with which the joints are provided.

The Indians, of the intendancy of Oaxaca, do not all follow the same method in rearing the cochineal, which M. Thiery de Menonville saw practised in his rapid passage through San Juan del Re, San Antonio, and Quicatlan. The

Indians of the district of Sola and Zimatlan. establish their nopaleries on the slope of mountains, or in ravines, two or three leagues, distant from their villages. They plant the nopals after cutting and burning the trees which covered the ground. If they continue to clean the ground twice a year, the young plants are in a condition to maintain the cochineal in the third year. For this purpose the proprietor of a nopalery, purchases in the months of April or May, branches or joints of the tuna de Castilla, laden with small cochineals, (semilla) recently hatched. These branches, destitute of roots, and separated from the trunks, preserve their juice for several months. They are sold for about three franes the hundred, in the 'market of Oaxaca.

The Indians preserve the semilla of the cochineal for twenty days in caverns, or in the interior of their huts, and after this period, they expose the young coccus to the open air. The branches to which the insect is attached, are suspended under a shed covered with a stráw roof. The growth of the cochineal is so rapid, that even in the months of August and September, we find mothers already big before the young are yet hatched. These mother-cochineals are placed in nests, made of a species of tillandsia, called paxtle. :: They are carried in these nests two for

* Informe de Don Francisco Ibañez de Corvera. (M. S.)

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »