Paddle cactus are some of my favourite plants. Hmmmm… Perhaps that phrase does not carry much weight anymore since I seem to say it quite a lot really. However, I love the way they develop and morph into fascinating, anthropomorphic shapes. Their flowers are beautiful and their fruit (cactus pear or “tuna” in Mexico) are delicious although a little bit seedy. I gorge myself on them every October when they come into season.
The best way to eat the fruit is to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. You can make it into a drink or sorbet too but that’s too much work. Just watch those teeny loose hairs (called ‘glochids’). The big spines are easy to see and avoid but no matter how careful and precise I am when handling the plant or fruit I always find myself with one or two microscopic hairs embedded into my hand or a finger. And they are relentless; aggravating and impossible to extract without a magnifying glass and a pair of precision tweezers.
While in Cuba, I picked a small fruit from another plant nearby, placing it in my room’s mini-fridge with the hope of tasting it later. I thought I had been careful but of course there was a hair and no pair of tweezers with which to extract it. I never did find a knife or utensil to cut the fruit open and it froze in the fridge anyways.
Found growing on the beach outside Santiago de Cuba. Sunburn relief is conveniently located within arm’s reach!
If you’ve been to a tropical country you have probably come into contact with one of the many species of this tree, the Pandanus or Screw Pine. Although not a pine but commonly named for the spiral growth of the leaves, this tree is not native to Cuba but is often planted in tropical countries due to it’s strong fibres that are extremely useful for making ropes, weaving clothing, hats and all sorts of helpful items. It has medicinal uses too although I am not sure what they are.
Our first sighting of a Pandanus was in the Jardin Gran Piedre, a botanical garden and former coffee plantation located high up in the Sierra Maestra mountains. [I will write more about this garden in the future.] The tree was a female and covered in large, interesting fruit, leading us to spend several minutes speculating on what it could be, our guesses almost completely uneducated and based on absolutely no experience whatsoever. We love to do that; pretend like we’re really knowledgeable about things we’ve never seen in our lives and possibly have a clue. We concluded it had to be some kind of breadfruit-like plant until our guide intervened revealing the plant’s name and explaining that the fruit is inedible to humans.
Aerial roots grow down from high up in the tree functioning as prop anchors holding up the heavy, fruit-laden top of the tree during stormy weather.
Another photo of the first tree showing the prop roots. Apparently soil and plant matter is trapped in the roots making the plant a good erosion preventer.
A Pandanus flower
We’re back! I’ve got a lot of email to get through, laundry to wash, and photos to organize so I’m not officially back to work until Monday but I couldn’t wait to share a taste of the planty goodness experienced on this trip. The ride through the countryside from the airport to our hotel alone was amazing… I got a little teary-eyed when I spotted massive trees drenched in the largest tillandsia I have ever seen. Some were flowering!
We spent our first day exploring the natural life around our hotel. The grounds are fronted by the ocean and backed by a rocky range. We located a box canyon down near the beach cove where we made some exciting discoveries.
The first was an orchid plant just laying there on the ground. There it was, an orchid laying there at my feet like it’s no big deal for an orchid to just lay there, on the ground, hanging out.
Then I turned around and spotted my first tillandsia within touching distance!
I’ve posted a few additional photos to my flickr stream but believe me there is a lot more to come. Much, much more.
I have so much to tell you about last week’s trip to the Montreal Botanical Gardens but I can’t seem to wade through the millions of photos and thoughts without first showing you one of the silliest, most ridiculous crimes ever perpetrated on a plant for human amusement and seasonal decor.