“Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Western hemisphere; however, they have been introduced to other parts of the globe. Prickly pear species are found in abundance in Mexico, especially in the central and western regions. They are also found in the Western United States, in arid regions in the Northwest, throughout the mid and lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains such as in Colorado, where species such as Opuntia phaeacantha, Opuntia polyacantha and others become dominant, and especially in the desert Southwest. Prickly pears are also the only types of cactus found to grow natively far east of the Great Plains states”.
Prickly Pears belong to the Family Cactaceae Genus Opuntia. The spread of the plant to Australia was a result of the insect Cochineal which hosts on the plant and is an important part of the dye industry.
Traditionally cochineal was used for colouring fabrics. During the colonial period, with the introduction of sheep to Latin America, the use of cochineal increased, as it provided the most intense colour and it set more firmly on woolen garments than on clothes made of materials of pre-Hispanic origin such as cotton, agave fibers and yucca fibers. In general, cochineal is more successful on protein-based animal fibres (including silk) than plant-based material. Once the European market discovered the qualities of this product, the demand for it increased dramatically. By the beginning of the seventeenth century it was traded internationally. Carmine became strong competition for other colourants such as madder root, kermes, Polish cochineal, brazilwood, and Tyrian purple, as they were used for dyeing the clothes of kings, nobles and the clergy. For the past several centuries it was the most important insect dye used in the production of hand-woven oriental rugs, almost completely displacing lac.It was also used for painting, handicrafts, and tapestries. Cochineal-coloured wool and cotton are still important materials for Mexican folk art and crafts.