Of straight and tall cacti, taller than lances (or somewhat like long pikes), square and spiny, which the Spaniards call candles[1] because they look like candles or wax tapers, except in their height and thorns, which the Indians of Venezuela call dactos.

Translated by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert

The cacti that the Christians on this island call candles can be found in other islands as well as on the Mainland. These are a type of very spiny and wild cactus completely covered in spines, even though the spines are organized by nature in regular intervals with much harmony and measure in their composition. They are very green and as tall as a fighting lance and some as tall as a pike, while others are smaller and as thick as a man’s thigh, one that is neither fat nor thin. They grow together and very straight, as I have tried to depict them in this drawing.[2] These cacti produce a red fruit, closer to a crimson color, and are the size of a walnut, sweet and good to eat, full of countless grains and very red in color, and it dyes the fingers and lips wherever it touches. It is not a fruit to yearn for, nor is it bad tasting or one to set aside when it is ripe and just at its best.

These cacti, once they have grown as tall as they will, grow old as all things in this life do, and dry out, and the cacti that have grown from them are green alongside the old and dry ones. So that the new ones are green with their brown spines and the old ones are dried, all of them together forming a squadron.

I have not managed to learn what use the Indians made of these cacti. In the Mainland, in the province of Nicaragua, these cacti are not found outside the Indians’ planting fields. As far as the fruit is concerned, it seems not to be something meriting much attention, and this is why I suspect that they had a particular effect or property the Indians valued. And it must have been the same here when this island was populated by Indians, because there are many of these cacti in the hills, woods, and thickets. But what has now turned to bush was in times past well populated, where these cacti and their fruit are now found. What I have been able to understand about this matter is just as I have told, and it seems to me that this fruit that I find neither substantial nor pleasant to the taste must taste different to the Indians’ palate, or it had other uses that the Christians have not understood thus far. At least on this island I have not been able to learn more than what I have said.

After having been informed through my own eyes of what I have said above about these trees, I will say that the very reverend Bishop of San Juan, who was first bishop of Venezuela, came to this island after visiting his bishopric in Venezuela, where there are a lot of these cacti, and he said that fruit they bear or produce is a very good one, which they call dacto, and grows very near the coast. But those, as this prelate and others have said, grow from a stalk four or five handspans tall and more, up to eight, more or less, and the straight candle-like branches grow from this trunk, just as they are drawn. And they bear fruit every six months of the year, beginning around April or May, and the fruit is the size of a medium-sized apple, the peel all covered in spines; they remove the peel and what is inside is what is eaten and it is very similar to the dragon fruit, but this one is better tasting. In that province, these candles or trees do not grow as large as they do on this island, neither in height nor in roundness, and their wood is light and in and of itself of little use or benefit, because it is not easy to handle given its many spines. So, with time we have come to learn this that I have now added about these cacti, and no matter how well one explains something, it will always be better understood by those who write after me, since time and experience will teach us other particularities.

[1] A cactus belonging to the Cereus genus of cacti (family Cactaceae), which includes approximately thirty-three species of column-like cacti. The name derives from the Latin words meaning wax, torch, or candle.

[2] Lám. 3. Fig. 10.