Of the thistles of the prickly pear cactus and its fruit, which in the province of Venezuela in the Mainland is called comoho.

Translated by Ella Nguyen ’23

Since the giant cactuses or “candles” were described in the preceding chapter, and I wrote earlier about other thistles of the dragon fruit, it seems to me that this is the proper place to speak about other thistles known as prickly pear cactus and of the fruit they bear, which has the same name. And because further on, in Book X, I will tell of the bone-welding tree, keep, reader, the memory of these prickly pear cactuses in mind, because the leaves of these thistles greatly resemble those of that tree: nor am I convinced that these same thistles do not eventually grow into those trees; and even if that is not the case, because in truth the fruit is very different, the fact is that their appearance suggests that there is a connection, given the great similarity in the leaves and thorns.

These thistles or prickly pears have very droll figs (which is their fruit), long and green, and somewhat red on parts of the outside of the peel, and they have sunken crowns, like the loquats of Castile. And inside they are red all over, in a red that tends towards pink, filled with seeds like true figs, and its skin is like that of the fig, or a little thicker. They taste good and are easy to digest, and they are sold in this city’s markets regularly as a good fruit. The leaves of the thistles from which they are born are somewhat round and very thick and spiky, and on their sides and flat surfaces at certain intervals you find their fierce and sharp thorns, three or four of them together, distributed around them. And the leaf is as thick as a half or a third of the thickness of the finger of a man’s hand, and each leaf is as big as a hand (open and with fingers extended), and some are smaller, because they are growing; and other leaves grow off these leaves, and then others, and thus these thistles or prickly pears grow until they are as high as the knee, or about three handspans, a little more or less. And in this manner of expanding and growing, and in the forms of the leaves and thorns, and in the way that leaves grow from other leaves and form branches, they resemble the bone-welding tree I wrote about before.

I call this fruit droll, because eating five or six of these plays a trick on those who have never eaten them, placing them in great distress and fear of death, without there being in truth any danger in it; and as a man who has tried it, I will tell what happened to me the first time I ate these prickly pear cactuses: that in truth I would have given anything I had to find myself where I could be advised and confess my sins, and communicate spiritually and temporally what was advisable for the health of my soul and my person and to ask for a life-saving remedy, and it was in this way. In the year 1515, coming from the Mainland to this city of Santo Domingo, after I landed at the end of this island of Hispaniola, coming through the province of Jaragua in the company of pilot Andrés Niño and other companions, and since some of them were more experienced on this land than I and knew this fruit, they ate it willingly, there being a lot of it in the countryside. I started to keep them company in eating this delicacy, and I ate some of them, and they tasted very good; and when it was time to stop to eat, we got off the horses by a river, and I turned away to relieve myself and urinated a large quantity of real blood (or so it seemed to me), and I did not dare urinate as much as I could have or the need required, thinking that my life could end that way; because without a doubt I believed that all the veins of my body had broken and that all my blood had gone to my bladder, as a man without experience of this fruit and one who so little understood the composition and function of the veins, or the property of the prickly pear cactuses that I had eaten. And because I was left stunned and my color changed because of my fear, Andrés Niño (the pilot who later got lost in the South Sea in the discovery of Captain Gil González de Avila, as will be told in its place), who was a good man and my friend, came to me and mockingly said: “Sir, you are not looking good. How do you feel?  Does something hurt?”  And he said this so calmly and without distress that I believed that he, feeling sorry for my illness, was being truthful. I answered him thus: «Nothing hurts me; but I would give my horse and another four to be in Santo Domingo and near Licenciado Barreda, who is a great doctor; because without a doubt I must have broken all the veins in my body.” Having said this, he could no longer conceal his laughter, and because he saw me in such anguish (and in truth it was not a little), he replied laughing: “Sir, do not fear. The prickly pear cactus will make you think that, and when you urinate again, the urine will be less murky, and there will be nothing of this by the second or third time. You will have no need of the Licenciado Barreda you mentioned, nor will there be cause to give up the horses you offered.” I was comforted and partly cured, although not completely, until I saw that there were other frightened neophytes among the company who were going through the same ordeal. And little by little we saw through experience that Andres Niño was telling the truth; and I found myself as happy as if I had avoided one of the greatest dangers in this world, because I had never wanted to die with a reputation for gluttony or depravity: the truth was that there had been times when I had stopped eating, despite great need, so as not to eat some things that I have seen other men eat in these parts.

So, going back to our purpose, the joke and the fruit can bring great mirth and no little fright for those who have had no experience with the fruit of the prickly pear cactuses, of which the fields in many parts of this island are full; and in this city they use these cactuses to fence the animal pens and orchards of houses.[1] And they do not stop producing their fruit on the garden walls, first bearing some yellow flowers and then the prickly pears, and they take root like grass, they are much worse than the buckthorns of Spain, with more bitter thorns. In the other islands of San Juan, Cuba, and Jamaica I have also seen these prickly pears or thistles, as well as in other islands, and they are common in these Indies. The leaves are green, the thorns are brown, and the fruit is as I have mentioned. When it is eaten, the juice of this fruit dyes lips and hands, as the blackberries of Castile usually do, and it takes so long for that color to go away, even much longer than the ink of the blackberries. This fruit and even the thistle that bears it is called comoho in the province of Venezuela, and when peeled it is like a blackberry: its flavor is good, and in that land the Indians make wine from this fruit; but this comoho is more flavorful than the fruit of the prickly pear cactuses, and, as I said, they belong to the same lineage as these prickly pear cactuses, except that they are smaller and taste better. And the wine mentioned is red, the color of that made from red grapes.


[1] Lámina 3, figura 11.