Saturday, July 2, 2011

The crown of thorns of Medina Sidonia

Near 24 years ago I visited for the first time the small Andalusian city of Medina Sidonia located on a hill in the province of Cadiz. What it drew attention more to me was the extreme poverty of its houses, the dust and the burial silence of its streets without asphalting, the absence of cars, the abundance of wanderers flying and singing happy under a luminous  blue sky and a drought of its white earth. Nevertheless something in it captivated to me. I do not know to explain it, but I felt to pleasure. I had sensation to be in a magical place loaded of positive energy, old, sacred, cosy, eternal, as if the energy of the spirits of the hundreds of thousands of people who were born there, lived and died throughout its expanded history of more than three millenia was had accumulated in him. 
 Meadow in the outskirts of Medina Sidonia. Striking the attention the fence of aligned thorny nopal cactus with the olive trees of the bottom that they prevent that the cattle escapes. I made this photo 3 years ago in my second travel to Cadiz. It had rained in abundance and the vegetation was magnificent.

The occupation of the hill began with the first tartesic establishments at the end of the Age of Bronze, happening through the colonization of the Phoenicians coming from the distant Sidon who gave the same name him to the new city, followed by the Romans who called it Asida Caesarina Augusta. In the later visigotic domination was elevated to the category of capital of province with the name of Asidona. In year 712, after the Muslim conquest, it received the definitive name of Medina Sidonia and was capital of the Cora of the same name for more than 550 years. Finally, in 1264 it was reconquered by the Christian troops of King Alfonso X el Sabio and served as military base for the conquest as the nazari Kingdom of Granada. In 1440 it happened to be property of Dukes of Medina Sidonia. The present Duke is number XXII of the saga. 

Rural way of Medina Sidonia with the white earth like the snow and the ebullient fence of thorny nopal cactus of the right that serves to contain the cattle. The photo is done in the month of May of the 2008. The yellow flowers are seen crowning the shovels of the nopal that belong to the Mexican species Opuntia amyclaea.

Near 24 years ago in the outskirts of Medina Sidonia, when already I gonna, I found a small cactus similar to the typical nopal Opuntia ficus-indica but much more thorny. It would at the most have a dozen of shovels clearly dehydrated by the extreme drought that supported that year the earth of Cadiz. I did not see more nopal cactus. I suppose that few years ago they had begun to seed them as fence and had still not become the uncontrollable present plague. 

I have the custom to take an alive memory to me of all the places that have hit to me. So I stopped the rent car, I took newspaper leaves not to puncture myself and I took a small shovel to him to take it to me like memory. They were other times and in the airports there were no the present controls of the luggage. Nowadays it would be a recklessness to take a leaf of thorny nopal within the suitcase. I could finish before a judge by attack against the authority if the guard of the control of luggage puncture itself in the hand.

 Dangerous thorns of a shovel of nopal Opuntia amyclaea. After painful puncture of the long thorns the small ones that are very fragile and with small inverted hooks nail that act like a hook. When trying to extract they are broken them with facility and they are nailed within the epidermis, being able to cause an infection. It is understood since these nopal cactus are used like fences to contain the cattle that grazes in the meadows.

 Impressive fence of nopal to the side of a way. Many wild plants take advantage of the protection the thorns of this American cactus to live calm safe from maw on the cows, ewes and goats.

One of these plants is the gorgeous Aristolochia boetica. Their strange flowers are shown between the thorns to attract the pollenizer insects.

Another plant that grows next to the nopal is the poisonous Solanum linnaeanum (synonymous of Solanum sodomeum). This South African plant that has colonized all the Mediterranean region does not need the protection of the nopal cactus, because the animal know by instinct that is very toxic.

Beautiful flower and mature fruit of the South African Solanum linnaeanum, very frequent next to the nopal of the rural ways.

Gorgeous flower of Opuntia amyclaea when open. Its salmon color passes to an alive yellow lemon color when the flower is completely open.

The bees go greedy to suck the rich and abundant nectar of the nectaries of the bottom of the flower.

After the fertilization by the pollen transported by the bees, the ovary becomes an appetizing yellow fruit. The small dehydrated leaf that I took in Medina Sidonia flew with me until Majorca. I seeded it immediately and in few days it took roots, it rehydrated, it brought forth new shovels and in two years it gave me the first fruit, the one that you see in the photo. My exaggerated curiosity to prove new things took to me to peel it and to eat it. I assure to you that it was very taste. Its candy and substantial greenish pulp do not have anything to envy to the delicious pulp of the nopal Opuntia ficus-indica.

To peel a  prickly pear requires a special technique to avoid the irritating spines. My maternal grandfather knew well like doing it. Whenever the grandsons were going to see the parents of my mother who lived in the field, my grandfather gave to us with a stuffing of prickly pears. He had fruits of orange, mulberry and white color. 

  He had long pliers done with two united branches of olive tree in a point by a nail as a scissors. In the end of the pliers the two branches had been hollowed in the form of buckets and with them he took the fruits one by one, he put them in a bucket with water, he removed it and them with a wood so that the spines followed and at the same time those softened that had not followed. 

 Soon the full water threw of thorns to a young walnut and peeled the fruits on a block of arenaceous. He was happy seeing us enjoy those delicious fruits come from beyond the seas of distant Mexico.

He had such masters soon peeling those that hurried more than we eating them and we had one fruit in each hand and we did not give supply. 

When no longer we could eat more, one for him was peeled and threw the skins to the pigs. A spectacle was everything to see eat them raised on the wall of piggery. The thorns did not seem to matter to them absolutely. He had several pigs of Majorcan black race and a few of North American white race.

The pulp of the fruits of the Opuntia amyclaea of Medina Sidonia has a tuna clearly almost white green color. For my taste these fruits are refreshinger than those of the Opuntia ficus-indica of my maternal grandfather.

All the fruits of the cactus of the Opuntia sort are foods, are not poisonous, although some are very insipid or very acid. Those of the Opuntia linguiformis are very showy by their intense garnet color and are ideal to decorate a salad of exotic fruits, although they are very acid and with little sweetness.

Fruits of Opuntia linguiformis after washing them with water to retire the thorns. 

 Its intense garnet color dyes the fingers during several days. The cold fruits know better good, reason why it agrees to awhile put them within the refrigerator before consuming them. They are possible to be eaten to the natural or with a little sugar. 

Fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica. The left one of orange color is the most frequent variety. The garnet variety is more difficult to find. Both taste equal. 

The cactus of the Opuntia sort have become true uncontrollable plagues in all the regions of the world with Mediterranean and semi-arid climate. The frugivorous animals and the birds especially disperse to the seeds with their excrements far from the plant mother. They like much to colonize oriented rocky slopes to the south.

Here we see a Opuntia ficus-indica been born from a seed taken by a bird on these rocks burned by the sun in the coast the northwest of Majorca.

In Medina Sidonia the Opuntia amyclaea has been feral from the plants of the fences and has surrounded the city of a true crown of thorns in less than three decades. It is practically impossible to control it and much less to eradicate it. It already comprises of the asidonense flora. In my last visit three years ago the city had changed drastically, it had modernized and embellished. The surrounding field followed just as 24 years ago except in the edges of the property and the edges of the rural ways where the Opuntias the owners have become absolute.

One is asked who serves to whom and the answer is very simple. The Opuntias, like other many worked plants, use the man to proliferate and to colonize new territories, really, to survive and to perpetuate their species. We think we took advantage of them, we called them useful by its fruits, its grains, its beautiful flowers, its fibers, its wood, its tubercles and in fact are they who of a very intelligent and subtle way use to us blatantly in their own benefit.

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