Myrtillocactus

Two of the most conspicuous plants of the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico are Yucca filifera and Myrtillocactus geometrizans, the latter usually towering above the other cacti and shrubs. Several areas near Matehuala in San Luis Potosi have forests of Myrtillocactus. The cactus is unusual in that more than one flower is produced from each areole; it is also a surprise that such small flowers occur on such a large plant. Both the flowers and fruits taste excellent and are harvested by the local people. The taste of the fruit has been likened to that of the kiwi fruit, Actinidia deliciosa.

These cacti have long been known to science with the first species described as Cereus geometrizans by Karl Martius in 1837 in Ludwig Pfeiffer's Enumeratio Diagnostica Cactearum Hucusque Cognitarum. Myrtillocactus (type, C. geometrizans = M. geometrizans) was described in 1897 by Michelangelo Console, the name derived from the Greek myrtillo, meaning small, myrtle-like, referring to the fruits, which resemble those of the true myrtle, Myrtus communis.

Arthur Gibson (1988c) has studied the anatomy of the four species of Myrtillocactus; he believes that M schenckii, from Puebla and Oaxaca, has the least specialized characteristics in the genus and that Myrtillocactus is perhaps most closely related to Polaskia chichipe, also from Puebla and Oaxaca. Myrtillocactus flowers open during the day in spring, but the flowers remain open at night in at least some species and are pollinated by hawkmoths.

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