Monday, April 23, 2012
Garden Seeds // Cochineal Scales
Do your prickly pear or Indian fig look like mine?
If so, don't worry! This white spotting on your cacti is actually an insect called the Cochineal Scale. It hides under these white globs on your cactus. Carefully scrape off some of the white, waxy mass and look closely. You might find the cochineal scale. It is a sucking insect that uses the white mass to protect the female who produces a red dye. It looks like this:
These insects were used by humans for hundreds of years in the dyeing industry. When Herman Cortes came to the New World in the early 1500s, he discovered this red dye and took it to Spain for trading purposes. The dye was widely used for food, drinks, clothing, cosmetics and artists' paints until synthetic dyes became available in the 1850s. It is also why the British army had red coats!
To treat this pest, simply power spray off the white globs with water. If a pad is badly infested, cut off the entire pad at its joint. Then spray the pads again with a mixture of 1/2 tsp of dish soap to one gallon on water. While spraying, you will see the red dye.
I love these unique cacti and am thrilled for this simple and easy pest control solution!
Sources: 50 Common Insects, Western National Parks Association, 2004; The Backyard Gardener, December, 2004.