Opuntioid cacti have long been a focus of research because of their wide distribution and large number of species. Only in more recent years have investigations begun to clarify the boundaries of genera. The large genus Opuntia, long accepted by most researchers, has been broken into discrete, fairly well defined groups. Many had previously accepted these groups as subgenera of Opuntia, but studies by Steven Dickie and Robert Wallace (2001), Wallace and Dickie (2001), James Iliff (2001), and Wolfgang Stuppy (2001) show that their acceptance at the level of genus is justified. Miqueliopuntia is an example of such a genus.
The name Miqueliopuntia was first used by Alberto Fric as early as 1929 but validated by Friedrich Ritter in 1980. The name of the genus is almost certainly based on the specific epithet of the single, type species, Opuntia miquelii (= M.
miquelii), which was named by Monville, probably honoring Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel, director of the herbarium at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands.
My first impression of this cactus was that it is like the bushy, spreading clumps of prickly pear cacti so common in the deserts of North America, but a closer examination showed the stem segments to be quite different, and unique. Miqueliopuntia has distinctive vegetative characteristics, especially regarding the areoles and branching pattern. It also has a characteristic seed structure, with a funicular girdle that is triangular in cross section. Miqueliopuntia flowers during the day in summer.
Miqueliopuntia Fric ex F. Ritter 1980 Subfamily Opuntioideae.
Miqueliopuntia miquelii (Monville) F. Ritter 1980 Opuntia miquelii Monville 1840, Cylindropuntia miquelii (Monville) Backeberg 1935, Austrocylindropuntia miquelii (Monville) Backeberg 1942, Maihueniopsis miquelii (Monville) R. Kiesling 1998
Plants relatively small, erect, shrubby, forming large thickets to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) high and several meters wide. Stem segments often arising near the tips of older segments, clearly jointed, stout, cylindrical, glaucous when young, 7-20 cm (2.8-7.9 in) long, 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) in diameter. Tubercles prominent, elongate, well defined. Leaves fleshy, with pointed red dish tips, early deciduous, 3-5 mm long. Areoles about 60, on all parts of stem segments, hairy. Glochids always present, reddish brown, 4-8 mm (to 0.3 in) long, usually on upper parts of areoles. Spines borne on all areoles, numerous, unequal, erect, to 8 cm (3.1 in) long. Flowers borne near the stem tips, not opening fully, white to pale rose pink, to 7 cm (2.8 in) long; pericarpels cylindrical, tuberculate, with bristles; perianth parts short. Fruits globose to ovoid, pale green to whitish, barely tuberculate, fleshy, indehiscent, covered with bristiy spines. Seeds variable in shape, yellowish white to ochre, 3.5-5 mm long, laterally compressed; funicular envelope tough, slighdy hairy; funicular girdle prominent, strongly protruding, triangular in cross section; perisperm large. Distribution: Chilean coast from the Elqui Valley north to Copiapo, Atacama.
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