Country of origin: Grenada
Plant: Cochineal Cactus aka Prickly Pear
Prickly Pear cacti grow with flat, rounded pads armed with two kinds of spines: large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hair-like prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures. Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Americas, but have been introduced worldwide. Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico and in the Caribbean islands (West Indies). In the United States, prickly pears are native to many areas of the arid West and Southwest, but range to the dry sandhills and sand dunes of the East Coast from Florida to Connecticut, and even in isolated areas around the southern Great Lakes.
In tropical and subtropical South America and Mexico, prickly pear cacti serve as hosts to the parasitic insect Cochineal, from which the natural dye carmine is derived. A primarily immobile species, cochineal lives on the cacti, feeding on plant moisture and nutrients. The insect produces carminic acid that deters predation by other insects. For dye production, the insects are brushed off and dried, the carminic acid extracted from the body and eggs, then mixed with aluminium or calcium salts to make carmine dye, also known as cochineal. Today, carmine is primarily used as a colorant in food and in lipstick, though it dates as far back as the 15th century in Central America, used for coloring fabrics and as an important export during the colonial period.