Pigment Source: "Texas Prickly Pear" Fruit; Nopal Tuna

October 5, 2015

The beautifully rich pigments of the fruit of the Texas Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii) glow a succulent pink, not dissimilar to the fleeting streaks of brilliant magenta that cross the skies during the brilliant sunsets in my home state of Texas. Also known as "Nopal" and "vela de coyote"  across the boarder in Mexico, this cactus has a far range which extends through the lower grassland prairies and downward, heading south towards the coast and grows abundantly in and around the local county. There are many variations of cactus within the Optunia family, many of them having a long history with humans. Nopal have been cultivated and utilized as food, dye sources and more recently as ornamental plants. 


The fresh juices from the Nopal Tuna are an exceptionally beautiful magenta. I extracted the juices by processing fruit and cold pressing the liquids from the fruit pulp. In this experimental process, I worked with the fresh unfermented fruit to test the lightfast properties of this particular pigment source.

After harvesting a number of the Tuna, I burned the thorns off the fruit over an open flame (in my case, a gas stove). 

I then peeled the fruit and then, simply using my hands, I pressed the fruit against various cotton fibers and fabrics, effectively staining them.



 The results turned out beautifully! The pigment was gorgeous and smelled earthy and delicious, very remincent to 'petricor' "the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil." Over a year later, this pigment sourced proved to have more in common with the breathtaking sunsets overhead. The minimally processed color faded drastically to a muted blush, its intensity proving to be as fleeting as the fiery skies this fascinating plant grows under. 


 In my research after this attempt, I discovered that, traditionally, this pigment is fermented and an iron-oxide mordant can be used to create a more stable, light fast medium. I've enjoyed the process of learning more about this plant and I hope to carry on my experimentation with this pigment source in the future! 


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