Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pitaya Strawberry Cactus

Bina Heads North

Bina wiped the tears from her cheeks and tried to remember now her family name: Johnson, Mayfield, Grosse, Simmons. She turned away from the canyon at the river and walked knowing somewhere north and a long day’s horseback ride the adobe house that her parents settled in 1862 was still lying in the cut between the mountains they called Green Valley. She remembered the day they arrived on the horse and wagon and the frigid cold with the wind pitching dust in the air. Madrid, Hernandez, Leyva, she stopped and picked a red fruit from a cluster of cactus tubes.

Pitaya, is the fruit of the strawberry pitaya cactus species that grows in loose ribbed spiny cylindrical clusters of 3 to twenty inches tall in the hot low desert region of the Trans-Pecos. The bright green plant, wrinkled-looking in the dry season is a perennial meaning that it grows and blooms over the spring and summer months and then dies back in winter, returning in the spring from its root-stock rather than seeding as an annual plant does. Most perennials live longer than two years and almost all trees are perennials.

A favorite of hikers in the Trans-Pecos, the pitaya is rich in Vitamin C, phosphorus and antioxidants and contains very little saturated fat. The aroma and taste of the fruit is similar to strawberries. It also has powerful laxative properties and can cause pseudohematuria, a harmless reddening of the urine and feces.

The strawberry pitaya is a vascular plant having lignified tissues for processing water, minerals and photosynthesis. Throughout the warm season it blooms in a variety of flower colors primarily red, pink and purple. It is considered a succulent, a shrub and is a native plant. The latin taxonomy name is Echinocereus enneacanthus meaning hedgehog candle.