Old Plants

Oh No! Next come the Dinosaurs! We’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t have a happy ending.

The oldest plant ever to be regenerated has been grown from 32,000-year-old seeds—beating the previous recordholder by some 30,000 years.

A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River (map). Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.


(ht Rikki)


From Biologist and Photographer of biologically active subjects, Alex Wild, comes a picture of a beetle. A longhorn beetle on a cactus. An Opuntia.

You’ll have to click through to see what I’m talking about. Click away!


Gorgeous Bromeliad

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations

Plate Number: 253
Vriesea erythrodactylon
Publication: The Bromeliads, 1969.

Remarks: The painting was displayed in the traveling exhibit: “Margaret Mee: Return to the Amazon” (1/16/96 – 8/20/99). The painting is matted in 30″ x 39″ matt and is on loan to Eva Pell, Under Secretary for Science, Smithsonian Institution and is in Room 325, Smithsonian Castle. Loan is through Richard Stamm, Curator, SI Castle Collections (11/19/10).

(Bromeliaceae) Collection: , Brazil, Caraguataluba; flowering plant.
Artist: Mee, Margaret – Date unknown – gouache

© Smithsonian Institution, Department of Botany

Nice Cephalium

From The Cactaceae Vol. 2 by Britton and Rose by way of  the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Plate Number: 1767

Cephalocereus barbadensis (Cactaceae) – Type; Collection: , U.S.A., New York Botanical Garden; flowering branch.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor
Copyright © Smithsonian Institution

Dinosaur Feathers

Dinosaur feathers found in Canada, from Scientific American.

A partial view of 16 feather barbs trapped within a single piece of Canadian amber. These specimens provide few clues about their potential bearer, but provide another tantalizing view of well-preserved pigments within the deposit. The overall colour of these specimens would likely have been medium or dark-brown. Photo: Ryan McKellar

Ice Plant Seed Pods

Wired Magazine is fascinated by the idea that seed pods can open up after they’ve been detached from the plant, i.e. after the tissue is “dead.” It seems to me that lots of seed pods that open do so after they’re “dead” but what do I know, I’m neither a botanist nor a reporter for Wired.

The article uses a Delosperma seed pod as an example of the “rare” phenomenon of dead plant “origami.” Since succulents’ cell structures can store lots of water, this example’s seed pod can unfurl, i.e. open, when the rains come.

Seed capsule from the ice plant Delosperma nakurense in the hydrated, unfolded state. (M. J. Harrington).

Now, what about the fact that these unopened seed pods, or “fruit”, are edible and often eaten by the birds?

link via PATSP.

Octopus Cactus

Rathbunia alamosensis (Cactaceae) Collection: , U.S.A., New York Botanical Garden; flowering branch.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

Plate Number: 243
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 2 Pl 25, Fig 1
Client: Britton, N.L. and Rose, J.N. – Size: 11×14

From the Smithsonian Catalog of Botanical Illustrations

Currently known as Stenocereus alamosensis. The Rathbunia genus name is long gone, originally used in 1909, but superceded in 1979 by Stenocereus. The “Octopus Cactus” common name is shared with a few other plants that share it’s sprawly characteristics.

Shrubby, columnar plants, they spread outwards somewhat sinuously. The flowers are tubular red, as you can see. They will form 2″ red fruit, probably edible, probably called pitaya like the fruit from other Stenocereuses. Mexican, although the sample illustrated above was not geo-located.

The Evolution of the Cactus

Brown University biologists and colleagues have discovered that the rapid speciation of cacti occurred between 5 and 10 million years ago (the late Miocene) and coincided with species explosions by other succulent plant groups around the world.

I haven’t had time to read this through yet, so I’m leaving this here as a marker to get back to later. Here’s another quote in the meantime.

Cactaceae first diverged from its angiosperm relatives roughly 35 million years ago but didn’t engage in rapid speciation for at least another 25 million years.


Cactus Moth

The Tampa Tribune publishes weird larva pictures.

The cactus moth larva often burrows into the cactus pad to feed on the flesh. Dripping ooze on the pad’s surface indicates a hungry caterpillar inside.

This came up in the course of a question from a reader:

Q: I found caterpillars in prickly pear in the cactus garden in the back yard. I looked them up and found pictures — they are definitely the larva of these cactus moths, Cactoblastis cactorum. What should I do to control them? Can I control them? What else will they destroy?

A:Unfortunately, this invasive insect is fairly common along Florida’s coasts. My advice to homeowners with only a limited number of cactuses under attack is to control the pest by removing the eggsticks by hand….

Click through for the rest of the answer, and a picture of the cactus moth’s eggstick.

Is this not the most exciting post of the day? No? Then you have no sense of the drama of the cactus moth’s mysterious eggstick.

Entomologists could wax lyrical for hours on the fascinating development of the Cactus Moth’s eggstick. Here, in fact, give a listen to an entomologist. Alright, so that wasn’t an actual recording of an entomologist at work, but rather the USDA’s scientific study of the Cactus Moth’s eggsticks.


Botanical Illustrations from the Smithsonian Collection

They have a lovely selection of cactus and other succulents.

Erythrorhipsalis pilocarpa (Cactaceae) Collection: Shafer, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro; flowering plant.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

© Smithsonian Institution Department of Botany
Plate Number: 1847
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 4 Pl 21, Fig 5
Client: Britton, N.L. and Rose, J.N. – Size: 11×14

This one came with an old name. The new name is Rhipsalis pilocarpa. Here’s a contemporary photo from rhipsalis.com. That must be a super close up illustration for it to match the photos of the plant we can find on the web, since the stems are only 1cm, and the plant is pendant, like all the other epiphytic rhipsalises.

Rooting Euphorbia in Water

Soekershof is experimenting with rooting various succulents in water for the purpose of shipping rooted cuttings overseas, which must be 100% soil-free.

Looks like the experiment is a success! even if they claim not to be scientists. Who among us could claim to be a scientist, just because we are carefully conducting scientific experiments?

Inventions; Cactus Related and Other

It’s official – the US has granted a patent to a prickly pear cactus hangover remedy.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s official that it works, or that prickly pear juice straight up will work either, or that anything works. Only that it’s been patented. For instance….

Razor with integral shaving cream dispenser.


Shoelace Containment Device

And my favorite….

The Light Bulb

Now, if I had patented my inventions over the years….

I came up with the small 4″ desktop TV set when I was 8 years old. I dreamed it and woke up all excited and went over to my desk to turn it on, and it wasn’t there. I was very disappointed. I also invented the pop-out car radio, including just the face-plate versions, rather than the original entire radio coming out.

What have you invented? What have you dreamed that has come true?

After the Halloween Parties

Did you say you have a hangover this morning? Have you tried cactus?

Discovery Sliced Cactus, £1.29 per jar

How it works: Extracts of prickly pear cactus have been shown by one U.S. study to alleviate the symptoms of hangovers, though it’s not clear why.

Tester’s verdict: Eimear O’Hagan, 26, from Belfast, says: “Waking with a dry mouth and a sore head, I ate a few pickled cactus slices and went back to sleep.

“They were OK if you like pickled food, but had no impact on the hangover. I had acid reflux later on.”

Expert’s verdict: “Extract of cactus is rich in antioxidants that can neutralise damage caused by free radical cells. Better taken before drinking not afterwards, so the body’s defences are primed.”

Is there any science behind this prickly theory? Why thank you for asking, in fact, yes there is.

A study published in the June 28th, 2004 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who took a dietary supplement containing extracts of a species of prickly pear cactus before consuming alcohol, had reduced symptoms of alcohol hangover compared to individuals who drank but took placebo.

So there you go. You have to take it ahead of time, but it works! And it appears that an extract works better than a pickled cactus. Sorry I forgot to tell you about this yesterday before you got drunk.


Firesticks, or "Pencil Cactus", Has it's Uses

Euphorbia tirucalli, like all plants in the Euphorbiaceacea (check spelling…) family, has a caustic or poisonous sap, a milky white latex excretion. And yet it appears to be a valuable plant for it’s many properties.

Many pharmacological activities of Euphorbia tirucalli has been documented…
inhibition of the ascitic tumor in mice…
control intestinal parasites…
treat asthma, cough, earache, rheumatism, verrucae, cancer, chancre, epithelioma, sarcoma, skin tumors and as a folk remedy against syphilis.

I didn’t know that (not that I needed to know that last one either).

Saturday Science!

The Original Pitaya

I’ve been blogging a lot recently about the fruit of the cactus. The cactus fruit! Tunas and Dragonfruits etc.

Now the domesticated desert pitaya, from Stenocereus pruinosus, has been tracked back to original populations in the wild.

What we found is that the people of the Tehuacan Valley are carefully selecting and cultivating cacti to produce the pitaya they want,” says Dr. Alejandro Casas, who was a member of the research team.

“They’re not attempting to produce one type of pitaya. They have a rich understanding of the cacti and are able to produce fruits with a variety of colors and tastes,” adds the expert, which is an ethnobotanist.

Pitaya are the fruit of cacti, and the main reason they were domesticated in prehistory in the first place.

“We found that the forest cacti showed more diversity in their genes than expected. It is not a case of finding a simple transition from wild to domesticated plants,” the team member argues.

“The methods of propagation of cacti by the traditional farmers, including the production of a variety of fruits, help increase the genetic diversity of the cacti. This is a crucial strategy in conserving the genetic resources of Mesoamerica,” he adds.


Unfortunately they included a Ferocactus picture with the article.

And we all know now that ferocactus fruit is small and not as delicious.

Here’s the delicious desert pitaya, not to be confused with the jungle pitaya, also known as the dragon fruit, or the mountain pitaya, also known as the cactus apple.

What's My Name?

Hey friends, i just to find your page and i think is wonderful, but i would like to say that the name of Echinocereus grandiflora is not a correct name (you show the hybrids there).

The correct name is Echinopsis grandiflora (Trichocereus grandiflora)

Ing. Escudero

Thanks for the note.

Ours are mixed hybrids, including both Echinopsis and Echinocereus, hence all the different flower colors. As an intergenic hybrid, we choose not to use the Echinopsis grandiflora designation, which we think would be more confusing.

More on the Flocculent Cactus Mucilage

Earlier today I blogged an article from India about using cactus mucilage as a flocculent to purify water, and commented that without further scientific confirmation, I was withholding judgment.

I see here that New Scientist has a preliminary article up about the flocculent properties of the cactus mucilage.

FORGET expensive machinery, the best way to purify water could be hiding in a cactus….

Householders in the developing world could boil a slice of cactus to release the mucilage and add it to water in need of purification, says (Norma Alcantar at the University of South Florida in Tampa), “The cactus’s prevalence, affordability and cultural acceptance make it an attractive natural material for water purification technologies.”

But Colin Horwitz of GreenOx Catalysts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says many issues remain, including how much land and water is needed to grow cacti for widespread water purification, and how households will know all the bacteria have been removed.

And it turns out that all the scientific research is happening in Florida, not Arizona.

Oldest Living Things

80,000 year old “trembling giant” tree colonies from Wired Science.


Image: “Clonal Quaking Aspens #0906-4318 (80,000 years old, Fish Lake, UT)” / Rachel Sussman

Biofuel Cell Works in Cactus

Oh yes, you read that right.


Biofuel cell inserted in a cactus and graph showing the course of electrical current as a function of illumination of the cactus (black: glucose, red: O2).

The picture is not big enough to be able to tell what species that is, but I’m guessing a cereus of some type.

With this advance, you could attach a wire to a cactus and you can power a fan  to cool yourself off in the desert. (Well, that’s my interpretation. Your mileage may vary.)




Euphorbia lactea crest “Ghost”

So many things going on here. First we have a crest, a process of fasciation, possibly caused by a virus, whereby the growing tip, the apical meristem, grows perpendicular to the stem rather than from a single point as normal.

Then we have the “ghosting” where by the plant has lost most of it’s chlorophyll, also probably through a virus. Now normally for a ghost plant to survive, myco-heterotrophy will provide the food needed as it takes advantage of a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi. However, in this particular case, this ghosted crest has not successfully developed it’s long-term relationship to the fungi to be able to comfortably rely on them enough, or at all. So off to the grafters we go.

And we see that this crest is in fact grafted onto another euphorbia which serves as the rootstock for this ghosted crested scion.

And all this just so that we may enjoy this stunning plant. Or for you, this photo.


I recently bought Richard Dawkins latest epic, “The Greatest Show on Earth” but I haven’t had the time to read it yet, what with the latest issue of Archie Comics having just come out. But the San Francisco Chronicle has this little gem from the book:

An “evolutionary arms race” pits cacti in the Galapagos against browsing tortoises, so the cactus grows taller to escape the browsers and the browsers evolve saddle-backed shells that enable them to stretch higher for the cacti.

I can’t wait. Tortoises AND cactus, together in one book! Exclamation points for everyone!

Science! Read More…

Succulent Tree

…in the Burseraceae family


Bursera morelensis

Endemic to the hills of Guanajuato, Mexico, this rare Bursera is rarely offered for sale, but is being studied for medicinal purposes.

Other Bursera species are grown for their fragrant sap (frankincense) and used as incense in religious rituals. Others are harvested for a resin known as copal.

So it’s not a surprise that there are properties to the Bursera.

Here we have a study of parthenocarpy in the plant. What they discovered is that this plant will sometimes produce fruit without seeds – and will even change the structure of the fruit when it does so. They theorize this is to trick predatory insects into attacking the parthenocarpic fruits (seedless) and leave the seeded fruits alone. Wow!

And here we have a study of the sap for medical uses. I do not understand the abstract, so I cannot tell you anything about it at all.


In the meantime, they are a most amazing and beautiful plant, and we received some plants that were being studied by a Bursera botanist for us to propagate.


The science of tequila has just taken a big leap forward.

Geneticists working in Central Mexico have mapped the genome of the blue agave, a desert plant used to make tequila…

And how does this help?

Plants in the agave family die after producing a flowering stem, and slowing the progress toward flowering gives the plants a longer productive life… something that could boost tequila production.

So finally, science has come to the rescue of the margarita industry. Actually, if they can get the Agave tequilana to slow it’s bloom cycle, maybe they can get other agaves re-sequenced too, and then we’d have century plants that live for a whole century! I’m sure they’ll get right on that, since the ornamental plant industry has as much power as the liquor industry, I’m sure.

Aloe Leaves

So earlier this morning I mentioned it’s the time of year to take your final cactus cuts. And I thought I should also mention that it’s OK to take some succulent cuts all the way into winter.

For instance, Aeoniums. And Aloes, too!

Fun fact: Did you know that the stoma of the aloe leaf are often sunken, and surrounded by well-developed lobes?


Portion of Vertical Section of Aloe Leaf

1. Stoma                            5. Vascular Bundle
2. Cuticle                          6. Water Storage Tissue
3. Upper Epidermis     7. Palisade Tissue
4. Palisade Tissue         8. Lower Epidermis

And from Aloes: The Genus Aloe By Tom Reynolds




August 2020

US Constitution


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