The group of flat-stemmed opuntioids that occurs in the Caribbean region has been considered different from those of the North American mainland, particularly in the unusual branching pattern and shape of the ultimate stem segments. Consolea (type, Opuntia spinosissima = C. spinosissima) was described by Charles Lemaire in 1862, the name honoring Michelangelo Console of the Palermo Botanic Garden, Italy. Nathaniel Britton and Joseph Rose (1919-1923,1:202-209), despite describing numerous new genera in The Cactaceae, did not accept Lemaire's genus, and simply placed species of Consolea in their series 26, Spinosissimae, of Opuntia. Most have followed Britton and Rose's treatment of Consolea in The Cactaceae, even though Britton changed his mind 11 years later and recognized it as a genus. Research by Steven Dickie and Robert Wallace (2001) and Wolfgang Stuppy (2001) shows that Consolea is, indeed, deserving of recognition at the level of genus.
Alberto Areces-Mallea (1996) has further studied the group, especially in Cuba, and concluded that nine species should be recognized. They are distinguished from the rest of the opuntioids by their characteristic indeterminate, cylindrical, woody, unsegmented main axis, dimorphic growth pattern, asymmetrical branching, unusual structure of the floral nectary, and distinctive pollen and seeds. The relatively small flowers are open during the day in summer and are borne subterminally. Areces-Mallea also notes that Consolea can be divided into two subgroups based on the texture of the mature stem segments, which are smooth or reticulate.
Subfamily Opuntioideae. Plants tall, treelike with one or more main, unjointed, spiny stems ortrunks that are usually round in cross section, with lateral or sometimes terminal branching, and forming loose to dense clumps of stem segments. Roots tuberous or fibrous. Stem segments globose, ellipsoidal, or ovate, often irregular in outline, with curving margins, either smooth or distinctly reticulate on their surfaces. Leaves minute, mostly cylindrical, falling away early, 0.5-3 mm long. Areoles with hairs, glochids, and spines, not sunken into cavities, sometimes concentrated in the distal portions of the segments. Spines variable, sometimes absent. Flowers open during the day, closing at night, small, red to orange to yellow; pericarpels elongate, flattened, and sometimes bent; styles with a basal thickening or cup-shaped nectaries; pollen grains 12-porate, completely lackingsmall, fine spines. Fruits oblongto ovoid, fleshy. Seeds highly specialized, yellowish white, 3-4 mm in diameter, strongly laterally compressed; funicular envelope densely covered with trichomes; funiculargirdle strongly protruding; perisperm reduced. Distribution: Florida and throughout the Caribbean.
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