Rancho La Nopalera

On this page we will be assembling materials in preparation for our excursion to the Rancho La Nopalera, also called Tlapanochestli (from nocheztli, the Nahuatl word for cochineal, the natural, pre-Columbian, red dye that had a huge importance in the Spanish colonial economy of Oaxaca).  Please also visit the page of resources relating to cacti and cochineal, hopefully useful for creating ethobiology lessons.

Cultivation of the nopal cactus. (S. Wood, 2010)

This ranch, in San Bartolo Coyotepec (also famous for its black pottery), is largely devoted to raising nopal cacti and cultivating the bugs that produce the cochineal dye.  The cacti are grown in open fields, and they some of the leaves/branches (pencas) are cut and moved into greenhouses where they are set up in raised beds and rotated through a process of infestation and maturation. Temperatures and humidity are more easily controlled in these greenhouses.

Below we see how a small handwoven reed tube is being used as a nest. From the tube, the bugs will emerge and become affixed to the cactus.

A nopal penca infested with the bugs that are used for making the cochineal dye. (S. Wood, 2010)

When a bug is pulled off of a leaf and squished in the hand, we can see the red color it produces.


Reminiscent of blood.

Besides providing dyes for Oaxacan textiles, such as rugs in Teotitlán del Valle, the Rancho La Nopalera sells its cochineal to a number of companies that make a variety of products requiring a natural red dye.

Products using cochineal red dye. Note how the dye is edible. (S. Wood, 2010)

Please also see our page, Cacti & Cochineal.