[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
June 22
1972 - Vasquez Rocks added to National Register of Historic Places [list]

Back to Nature | Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, Oct 8, 2015

maricarbajalWhen I bought my house in 1992, there was a small cactus growing close to my front door. I had no idea what it was (other than a “cactus”) at the time, but I watched it grow over the years into a healthy specimen.

Later, I researched this plant and found it was a cactus common to the area called a “beaver tail.” I could certainly see where it got its name. It’s also called a prickly pear (or nopales in Spanish), due to the fruit it produces.

The entire plant can be eaten, but I hear it’s best to process the plant when it is young. Older plants can become tough. Both the plant and the fruit can be eaten.

A The cactus contains a large amount of fiber and pectin that can lower blood glucose levels – a bonus for Type-2 diabetics, those suffering from high cholesterol, and victims of obesity. The plant has also been tested and shown to aid in colitis, diarrhea and other conditions such as viral infections.

You can use this plant in jellies, candies and other dishes such as the Mexican dish called “nopales” or other recipes that can be found online.

I was impressed with the overall health benefits of this plant, but I also made an unplanned discovery when researching this unique cactus.

BAbout 10 years into home ownership, I noticed a small amount of white, fluffy substance on the cactus. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I took a sample to a local nursery. They told me they thought it was a “fungus.” I purchased a fungicide which had no results.

However, I did notice that when I sprayed the plant, the white fluff would produce a purplish liquid. After researching this so-called fungus and the plant’s natural enemies, I found that the white fuzzy stuff wasn’t a fungus at all, but a type of scale called cochineal (Dactylopius coccus to be exact).

CAs it turns out, this particular type of scale has played an enormous role in the textile, cosmetic, food, science and art industries.

This “fluff” is produced by the female cochineal insect that is colored by red pigment and is only about one-sixteenth of an inch long. The male measures half her length. The mature male has wings and legs, but the female has neither.

Similar to the related aphid, the female inserts her proboscis through the skin of the cactus – where she remains for life – extracting the juice. In doing so, she produces a white, frothy substance that resembles fungus. This coating protects her from predatory insects and birds, and it shades her from the sun. This insect may fall prey to caterpillars or ladybugs, just like aphids; however, when over-abundant, this insect will in time kill the host cactus.

The female produces eggs, and when they hatch, the legged juveniles (called crawlers) migrate to the edge of the cactus pad. The wingless female crawlers produce filaments that lift them into the wind to a new host. Then they lose their legs and breed.

The winged males fulfill their role by searching for mates. The males die within a few days.

DIn history, the Spanish took advantage of the Aztecs’ long use of the textile dye, which added to the Spanish conquest. The Spanish kept the secret of the dye for years, and it was determined that the cash export was second only to silver in the mid-1500s. This dye was brought to Europe, being the main use for royalty, military, national fashion, cosmetics, dyes for foods, and for pigments of the master painters of the time. Microbiologists have used the dye to stain slide specimens.

Regardless of the use, a heavy price is paid. It takes approximately 70,000 cochineal insects to manufacture one pound of dye.

Today, Guatemala and other Central and Latin American countries have a large industry producing cacti farms with the intent to infest them with cochineal. It has become a profitable industry with a high demand for many products.

EAs for my cactus … well, about five years ago, the scale took over and eventually killed my plant, regardless of what I did to help it survive. No matter how much I tried to keep the scale under control and the cactus healthy, fate did not seem to be on my side. I was able to produce offshoots from the original cactus plant that survived with no scale to be seen.

I learned so much about the plant, the health benefits, and the contributions that this plant and its symbiotic parasite provide to our modern day industry.

I respect this cactus, the scale, and the natural process we are privileged to encounter. Nature is such a “give and take” entity, which is why I’m always in awe with Nature.

Stay aware and keep your eyes open.


Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.




Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


  1. Melissa says:

    Your columns are always so interesting, thanks for the great job you do and the knowledge you share with us.

  2. Tony Newhall says:

    Ms. Carbajal, What an incredible job you have done in researching and writing about this cactus, the insect and the dye. Absolutely fascinating.

  3. Greg Brown Greg Brown says:

    Who’d have thought that’s what it was?

  4. Caitlin Pass Caitlin Pass says:

    Thanks for posting! This scale recently showed up on my cactus and I’ve been meaning to do some research on it! Chris Pass Ray Morris

  5. Nayeli Parks Nayeli Parks says:

    Excellent article !!! Nopales are delicious !! And highly beneficial. You can grill them and eat them with salt and lime juice or boil them and prepare them with tomatoes and onions (nopales Mexican way) the tricky part is to remove the spines ( be careful) the fruit is delicious and it comes in different colors mainly green and red… They sell them ready to cook at some of the Mexican grocery stores

  6. Thanks for that story its intresting to know that the dye from this is source is so important to some industry’s.

  7. Wow! So informative. My mom planted cactus in my back yard and this happened to one of them. Crazy

  8. Nayeli Parks Nayeli Parks says:

    This is how you can grill them

  9. Nayeli Parks Nayeli Parks says:

    These are beef fajitas with a nopales bed….

  10. Lisa McKinney says:

    Thank you Mari Carbajal!!!! Loves this article! I have a similar cactus just outside my front door and LOVE the plant! The fruit it produces I love to eat. Helps with my pain issues too!!
    Great to know! Thanx again!!! ;-)

  11. Fred Trout says:

    Amazing article and so very well written. I am amazed at your talent Dr. Carbijal!!!

  12. Jason Alba says:

    Thank you Mari !!!! Loves this article! Your articles are so informative and clear to understand. Where did they steal you from the Times?!! keep up the great work!

Leave a Comment

Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
Your rights guarantee that you get the health services the law says you can get, protect you against unethical practices, and ensure the privacy of your personal and medical information. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times, and to be protected from discrimination.
Friday, Jun 15, 2018
California voters just bought the feel-good tax proposition that was stated to raise yet another $4 billion for “clean water” funds. Days later, Brown declared it isn’t enough. There will be another ballot measure in November to raise another $8 billion.
Friday, Jun 8, 2018
Our state leaders are finally working together to address one of the greatest inequities in higher education – funding for California community colleges that serve high need students.
Wednesday, Jun 6, 2018
Not every decision on the table must be made within the next week. When it comes to deciding how to fund community colleges, it would be wise to hit pause and devote more careful consideration to the discussion.
Monday, Jun 4, 2018
This summer, help your kids break away from Fortnite and YouTube – by signing them up for fun recreational opportunities offered by the City. Instead of screen time, their days can be filled with sunshine, learning, activity, arts, culture and much more.
Friday, Jun 1, 2018
In her June message, Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste details the best ways to enjoy the local trails and open space this summer.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan announced the sixth ballot counting update for the June 5 Statewide Direct Primary Election on Friday.
Sixth Election Results Update for June 5 Primary Election
The Master's University women's cross country team released its 2018 schedule Friday, the highlight coming Nov. 3 when it hosts the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships at Central Park in Saugus.
TMU Women’s Cross Country Releases 2018 Schedule
Minimum wage laws change July 1, so the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation and SCV law firm Poole & Shaffery, LLP will present a "Minimum Wage Forum" at College of the Canyons' University Center on Wednesday, August 1 from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
August 1: Minimum Wage Forum at COC University Center
Allison Needham of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation outlines the top five digital trends shaping 2018 so far.
It’s Personal: 5 Digital Trends Shaping 2018
The Robert T. Brentnall Pawsibilities Foundation, a Santa Clarita-based nonprofit animal rescue organization (Tax ID# is 47-5634745), is asking the community to help a family with a litter of German shepherd puppies, by adopting one or donating funds to help care for them.
Animal Rescue Group Seeks Help for German Shepherd Puppies
CalArts School of Art faculty member Shirley Tse will represent Hong Kong at the 2019 Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy, happening now through November 2019.
CalArts’ Shirley Tse to Represent Hong Kong at Venice Biennale
University administrators are falling short in their responsibilities to swiftly hold accountable staff and faculty named in sexual violence complaints and align disciplinary policies with federal guidelines, according to a state audit released Thursday of three University of California campuses.
UCLA, 2 More UC Campuses Faulted for Sex Misconduct Process
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is proud to announce commitments from four additional industry partners – AMC Networks, Moving Picture Institute, Telsey + Company, and Xperi – to participate in Academy Gold, an entertainment industry-wide internship enhancement and mentorship program for students and young professionals from underrepresented communities.
Academy Launches Summer ‘Gold’ Diversity Internships
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in their meeting Tuesday will consider a motion urging California to create an emblem program for licensed cannabis stores so consumers will know which stores are legal.
Supes Propose Statewide Cannabis Store Licensing Program
The JetHawks began the second half of the 2018 season with a win, beating Inland Empire, 7-5, at The Hangar Thursday night.
JetHawks Start Strong in Second Half, Beat IE 7-5
After four weeks of spirited voting, USA Today announced Friday that readers have voted Six Flags Magic Mountain the winner of the 2018 Best Theme Park contest.
USA Today: Six Flags Magic Mountain No. 1 Theme Park
The next meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set for Tuesday, June 26, starting at 9:30 a.m.
June 26: LA County Board of Supervisors Meeting
The state of California has a list of more than 10,000 known individuals in illegal possession of firearms, but has not provided adequate resources for law enforcement to recover their weapons, Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) said in a statement Friday.
After Firearms Raid, Acosta Calls for More Law Enforcement Funding
A voter-approved ballot measure aimed at reducing California’s prison population and ending racial disparities in the war on drugs has produced most of the cost-saving, equity-focused results it promised, with some exceptions, according to a study published Thursday.
Study: Prop. 47 Decreased Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests
A Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputy reportedly clocked a Las Vegas woman driving 93 miles an hour near the Saugus Speedway and arrested her on charges of excessive speed and reckless driving late Wednesday night.
Nevada Woman Arrested for Speeding, Reckless Driving in Saugus
1972 - Vasquez Rocks added to National Register of Historic Places [list]
The ARTree still has openings for next week's Junior Arts Sampler and "I Made That!" pastel classes.
ARTree Summer Classes Still Available
The Santa Clarita Arts Commission will hold a study session, Monday, June 25, at 6:30 p.m.
June 25: Arts Commission Study Session
The California Enterprise Development Authority will hold a teleconference meeting, Thursday, June 28, 2018 at 10:30 a.m.
June 28: California Enterprise Development Authority Teleconference Meeting
The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday, June 26, at 5:30 p.m.
June 26: Santa Clarita City Council Special Meeting
Firefighters are battling a brush fire at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill that started around 3:00 p.m. Thursday.
Firefighters Battling 1-2 Acre Fire Near Newhall Pass
Glenn Frankel and Keri Walsh have been named 2018 Academy Film Scholars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Academy Honors 2018 Film Scholars
Join the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and Sweat Box Sauna Bar as they celebrate the opening of their new location.
June 27: Grand Opening Celebration Sweat Box Sauna Bar
Fresh Mustang connections to Major League Baseball didn't end with the draft earlier this month. Master's graduate David Sheaffer, who transferred before his final collegiate season to pursue an international MBA program, signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Mariners on June 10.
TMU Alum Signs with Seattle Mariners
There are spots still available on the Saugus Spartans Football program for kids between the ages of 6-8 years old.
Spots Still Open on Saugus Spartans Football Program
An already extremely tight inventory bumped into rising interest rates to further complicate home sales during May in the Santa Clarita Valley, which saw drops in home and condominium closed escrows compared to a year ago, the Southland Regional Association of Realtors reported Thursday.
SCV Home, Condo Sales Drop Amid Tight Inventory, Rising Interest Rates
Detectives from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station are looking for a male suspect who stole a tip jar from a local coffee shop. Details below are from the Facebook page of the SCV Sheriff's Station:
Detectives Seek Public’s Help in Nabbing Tip Jar Thief
Adoption is a meaningful way for individuals and couples to fulfill their dream of parenting. There are approximately 64,000 children in foster care in California.
July 28: Children’s Bureau Foster Care, Adoption Information Meeting
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will be conducting a specialized Motorcycle Safety Enforcement Operation on Friday, June 22, in the city of Santa Clarita in an effort to lower deaths and injuries.
LASD to Conduct Specialized Motorcycle Safety Operation
LOS ANGELES – According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, air quality will be unhealthy for all individuals in Santa Clarita Valley and for sensitive individuals in East San Gabriel Valley area tomorrow, Friday, June 22.
Air Quality Advisory Issued for SCV
1941 - Ernie Hickson buys out Trem Carr's interest in their Monogram movie ranch, renames it "Placeritos" (later called Melody). [story]
CalArts alumna and faculty member Brigette Barrager (BFA Film/Video 07) was awarded the Christopher Award for Distinguished Achievement for her illustration of "Pocket Full of Colors."
CalArts Faculty Brigette Barrager Wins Christopher Award
"Window Lace," the first exhibit by CalArts students to be presented at the Westfield Valencia Town Center Mall, is now open on the mall's first floor across from H&M and will be on display through the end of summer 2018.
CalArts Opens its First Art Exhibit at Westfield Valencia Mall
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that Jennifer Todd has won the runoff election for the open Producers Branch seat on the 2018–19 Board of Governors.
Producer Jennifer Todd Voted to Academy Board of Governors
California's median home price reached a new high in May, while home sales retreated both on a monthly and annual basis, wiping out most of the gains posted for the year, the California Association of Realtors said Tuesday.
California Median Home Price Hits Record High, Sales Drop in May
In an effort to transform California’s relationship to energy markets in the western region of the country, lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill that would merge California into a regional energy market.
California’s Controversial Energy-Grid Bill Advances