The brilliant carmine of the painter, and the rich scarlet and crimson colors of the silk and woolen dyer, are produced from a small bug which feeds on the cactus plant This insect, called " cochineal," was unknown in Europe before the discovery of this continent It was first exported by the Spaniards from Mexico, where it was employed by the natives in producing those beautiful red colors on feathers, which were made into divers curious Indian fabrics Cochineal is sold at from one dollar and a half to two dollars per pound At one period, its cultivation was mostly limited to Mexico pro'per, but it has lately been extended to other countries, with very profitable returns to those who have engaged in it Its introduction and present extensive cultivation in the island of Teneriffe forms a remarkable episode in the history of the plants and people of that wonderful island, whose volcanic peak is seen from afar on the oeean, towering up, like a huge sugarloaf, twelve thousand feet into the blue vault above For three hundred years this island had been a vineproducing country, and wine was the principal article of its commerce—as much as 25,000 pipes being exported annually; and who would have thought that it ever would be otherwise ? But sometimes revolutions take place in the natural, as well as the social world, and about fifteen years ago, " the handwriting of doom" went forth against the wines of Teneriffe : The "vine disease" fell upon the vineyards, the fruit withered, the plants died, and starvation stared the people in the face The American vessels which used to frequent the island to exchange flour and provisions for wine, deserted the harbors What were the people to do ? Some years previous (in 1835) a native gentleman, knowing that the cochineal was cultivated profitably in Honduras, thought it might be equally so in Teneriffe He therefore introduced the cactus plant and its attendant insect, and set out a cochineal plantation The people arouad him, blinded by a strange fanaticism, thought that the cultivation of the cactus was something insulting to the vine, and they destroyed his plantation at night But being a man of some determination, and supported, happily, in his views by government, he was so encouraged as to adhere in his efforts to cultivate it as secretly as possible, in some lonely spots, and he was at last rewarded for all his trials and labors When the grapes died, and despair seemed to settle down upon the people, as the vine was their principal dependence, the question was sent forth, " Why not try to convert the abandoned and withered vineyards into cochineal plantations?" A furor seemed to seize the people in its favor, as it had already been demonstrated that the cochineal insect propagated rapidly, and the cactus flourished luxuriantly The deserted vineyards were converted into fields of the cactus plant, and such a profitable investment was never made before in the culture of the soil, even in the palmiest days of winegrowing An acre of ground set out with the cactus plant, yields about 300 pounds of cochineal, and under the most favorable circumstances 500 pounds, for which the owner receives about $3i0 The peasant women nurture patches of the cactus around their cottages, and thereby acquira considerable convenient little sums for domestic purposes, as the cochineal is always marketable, and in demand The cochineal insect resembles a plump rosebug when dried The female parents pro Juce young in very great numbers ; the males resemble gnats, are very shortlived, and are few in number in comparison with the females The latter, when young, are white, but gradually become purple in color, by secreting the fluid derived from the plant—that for which it is so valuable When filled with this secrebion, these insects are shaken off tha plants, placed on clean boards, and dried in Ovens, which process prepares them for market It ought to humble personal human pride when it is considered that its gratification is oftentimes due to very despised sources Thus bhe cochineal insect—or bug of the cactus plant—is employed to put the artificial rose on the pale'cheek, and the bloom on the new scarlet uniform in which the young soldier takes such pride At some future day, cochineal may become an object of culture in Florida and Texas, where the cactus and its purple insect abound
This article was originally published with the title "Cochineal Cultivation in Teneriffe"