Cactus indicus, ca 18th century
Watercolour on paper, ca late 18th century. Hand painted copy of an illustration commissioned by William Roxburgh.
Roxburgh noted in his Flora Indica that this cactus was common around Calcutta, and concluded there is every reason to imagine it is a native of these countries. These plants were probably introduced to India from the West Indies as early as the late 15th Century, initially for their fruit, and later for the dye made from cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus) which infect these plants. The drawing includes studies of these insects, the winged male can be seen far right, the female with her protective white covering in several stages on the left. It is likely that there are actually three plant species represented on this drawing. Fig.1 is possibly Opuntia stricta/dillenii, Fig.2 Nopalea cochenillifera, and Fig.3 Opuntia tuna
© The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew