Opuntia ficus-indica – Indian fig

Indian Fig

The coat of arms of Mexico depicts a Mexican golden eagle, perched upon an Opuntia cactus, devouring a snake. According to the official history of Mexico, the coat of arms is inspired by an Aztec legend regarding the founding of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, then a nomadic tribe, were wandering throughout Mexico in search of a divine sign that would indicate the precise spot upon which they were to build their capital. Their god Huitzilopochtli had commanded them to find an eagle devouring a snake, perched atop a cactus that grew on a rock submerged in a lake. After two hundred years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy Lake Texcoco. It was there they founded their new capital, Tenochtitlan. The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica; Nahuatl: tenochtli), full of fruits, is the symbol for the island of Tenochtitlan.

Opuntia ficus-indica, native to Mexico, was taken to Europe at an early date and is now common in many warmer regions of the world. Used traditionally as an ointment, opuntia has also been taken internally and used as a folk medicine.

We first saw this plant when we took a trip to southern Arizona. This cactus stands taller than a 6 foot man!

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