Eulychnia breviflora is a unique and very beautiful cactus of the Fourth Region of Chile. It grows along the coastal fog zone at an altitude from sea level to 300m, where it forms extensive forests. It’s a very drought tolerant species. Despite the lack of rain where it lives, the extreme aridity is attenuated by the frequent, often dense, coastal fogs. The fog tends to concentrate in the form of a cloud band. It shows a recurrent pattern; usually it is overcast in the early mornings, the clouds dissipating during the late morning and returning during the late afternoons. The cactus characterizes themselves to develop superficial roots, advantageous for water absorption. In addition, they have a denominated metabolism CAM (Acid Metabolism of the Crasuláceas, by its abbreviations in English), that allows them to catch CO2 at night, diminishing the loss of humidity.
E. breviflora Philippi is an arboreal cactus that growth very ramified from below, of 2 to 3 m. of high; stiff branches, of 6 to 10 cm. of diameter, with grass-green coloured epidermis. Ribs, 10 to 13. You prick with thorns dark when new coffee, grey with the age, right: those of the border, 10 at 22, of unequal longitudes (from few mm. up to 3 cm.); 3 to 6 very thin central thorns, of which 1 or 2 are very long (until of 15 cm.). Flowers near the apex, 7 to 8 cm. long, without perfume, white-rosy petals and darker edges; pericarpel and green floral tube, covered with narrow scales and areoles with dark and long yellowish felt, woolly and frizzy hair that totally covers the exterior of the flower. Round fruit, of about 6 cm. of diameter, wrapped in golden hair; white and sour meat; seed matt black, 2 mm. long. Copao is offered for fresh consumption or like natural juice. By its acidity, they prefer some it accompanied of sugar. It is known him like typical fruit of the Valley of the Elqui. Some investigations maintain that it owns a high Vitamin content C, acid ascorbic and high levels of saponinas, which could have a potential value like medicinal product. The study will verify if the data are correct.
The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest place in the world, and is where rain sticks are believed to have originated. Cacti characterize the landscape and provide the raw material to make the instrument. Copado cacti are the best type to convert into rain sticks. They’re tall and straight, and when they die – after about 70 years – they dry out, leaving a hollow tube called a normata.
To make a rain stick the cactus thorns are pushed into the tube from the outside in a spiral pattern, a few small stones are added, and the ends are blocked. Rain sticks for centuries have been used in ceremonial rituals by various groups from South America to bring rain to badly needed areas of the Atacama Desert. The Rain stick was used by these groups to illustrate to the gods that rain was badly needed. Held by either end, and tilted slightly, small pebbles inside will trickle down through sharp thorns to create the sound of rain falling from the heavens.
If you’re lucky enough to be headed south, give them a try. Be warned though, while the ones in markets have been cleaned of the tiny hair-like thorns, the ones fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to handle them with heavy leather work gloves and scrub them hard to ensure all the painful little barbs are off. Are you the kind of person who like the sour more in the “sweet and sour” combination? Do you like a good pucker after you take a bite? If tart is your taste then you should give this exotic fruit a try.