Science08 Jul 2015 10:40 am

Well obviously you can plant cactus and succulents in your front yard to reduce your watering. Why else are you re4ading my blog? Cactus are also the future of desert-grown food supplies. Well you knew that already too, anyway. But now IO9, the sci-fi website, wants you to know that Cactus may be the future of bio-fuels. Who knew!?!


As drought strikes broad regions of the world, farmers are focusing on the crops that can feed people—not the crops that can power their cars. But what if there was an energy crop that could grow where traditional crops can’t? Even in a drought? Enter the cactus.

The prickly pear cactus is one of the more common cacti in our world. It’s also a member of a unique group of plants that use an unusual photosynthesis pathway that evolved due to extreme growing conditions, in arid climates with long, hot, dry days and cool nights….

CAM plants have a special way of going about the business of photosynthesis: They only absorb carbon dioxide when it’s cool out, which means they don’t lose as much moisture as they would during the sunny, hot daylight hours. Then, when the sun comes up, they close their stomata—their pores….

Though there’s plenty of research to be done on how these plants would do as bioenergy fuel, Mason and his co-authors suggest that prickly pear could help make biogas—or gas which is made when organic matter is broken down without oxygen—along with other forms of bioenergy like bioethanol.

Whew, that’s a lot of science!

Airplants&Science26 May 2015 08:23 am

From Scientific American we get a Mexican Bromeliadt, only recently described!


Tillandsia religiosa, a solitary flowering plant with rose-colored spikes and flat green leaves, grows in rocky terrain in Morelos, Mexico. T. religiosa has long been known to native people of the region, who incorporated it into nacimientos (altar scenes depicting the birth of Christ) at Christmas. Yet scientists have only recently described it.

Photograph by A. Espejo


Questions&Reader Photos&Science19 Apr 2015 06:51 am

A house on my street has these mounds of aloes. Not too attractive as far as it’s design, but something very cool popped up out of it.

Aloe nobilis mutation

Is this how variegated versions of plants are made? By mutation?

I’m considering asking to buy this lil special guy and try to see if I keep it healthy it will put out pups. Have you ever seen one like this? Cuz I never have.



It does look like an albino variegation mutation on that Aloe nobilis. In full sun and low water it will likely fail long term, so indeed try to bargain for it. That type of mutation is usually better grown where they get afternoon shade and a bit more care since they lack so much chlorophyll they are a bit “sickly”, but look pretty good with the right care.

Good luck and if you get it and grow it out and want to share a pup in a few years let me know!

Take care,


Berkeley Gardens&Berkeley Succulents&Science26 Dec 2014 07:33 am


Ceiba speciosa

Derby St, Berkeley

These have amazing flowers 💐 and giant trunks and amazing thick spines. Nice! And they grow them in Berkeley right along the streets.

They are in the former Bombax family, with other succulent bottle trees, which is now the Bombax subfamily (Bombacoideae) of the mallow family, Malvaceae. Wow! That means it’s a giant tree that is closely related to these delicate and gorgeous California Native perennials. Sweet.

Cactus&Science28 Feb 2014 08:17 am


Nopalea dejecta (Cactaceae) Collection: S.F. Curtis, Cuba; flowering joiont.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Plate Number: 1725
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 1 Pl 4, Fig 4
Client: Britton, N.L. and Rose, J.N. – Size: 11×14

Science21 Feb 2014 07:16 am


Tillandsia linearis (Bromeliaceae) Collection: , Brazil; flowering habit.
Artist: Mee, Margaret

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

Plate Number: 1370
Publication: The Bromeliads. 1969. Plate 6; “Margaret Mee”. Ed. Sylvia de Botton Brautigam et al. Rio de Janeiro: ArtePadilla 2006. Page 166

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).

Beautiful painting! Click the image to embiggen, or click through to the link for more Tillandsia illustrations. Most of the Smithsonian botanical images I’ve posted in the past were old, maybe 100 years or so, but not this one, this is recent. So if you are recently also illustrating botanical subjects let me know!

Plants&Science06 Feb 2014 06:07 am


Dudleya brittonii is what I would call a California Native, but not everyone would agree with me. It is a Baja Native, i.e. Mexico, or Baja California. Is that California or not? Only the geologic formations can know for sure. But I’m betting that Eons of development would indicate that Baja and the US part of coastal California are part of the same Biome.

That’s my argument for including this plant in a list of California natives.

The other argument would be that some of these are growing naturally all the way up as far as San Diego County anyway so what’s this scientifically insignificant argument really about?!?

Environment&Nursery&Science17 Dec 2013 03:34 pm


It’s the VERY LOUD little Pacific Chorus Frog in the greenhouse, trying to poach flies from the carnivorous plants. #cute #frog

Photo by Rikki

News&Science20 Nov 2013 03:12 pm

Cactus are just like any other exotic plant – they can become invasive and a pest. In Africa there were Opuntias that were planted for the fruit and the flowers and now they are killing the local livestock.

The National Environment Management Authority has said it will issue a licence for the release of an insect that will feed on a cactus that kills their livestock in Laikipia county….

Wahungu said there are set procedures to be followed to release the insects as they have never been used in Kenya. He cautioned that this will be an experiment and any biological release can bring unexpected repercussions. Wahungu said they will not leave anything to chance.

The residents led by Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel said they have lost thousands of livestock after they feed on the fruits of the opuntia type of cactus, which have sharp tiny thorns that damage the intestines of the animals leading to death.

Unfortunately I am skeptical of this type of pest eradication effort. I don’t think it will end well.

Science08 Nov 2013 10:00 am

Now researchers have discovered how the partially subterranean “Living Stones” still manage to harvest enough sunlight while avoiding drying out in the parched landscape, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

I’ll need to read the whole article and study. Not right now of course, I’m busy at work. Later. Yeah.


Lithops lesliei ssp. venteri

National Parks&Science02 Oct 2013 10:44 am

Citing everything from grazing to insects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday granted endangered species protection to two cacti found in Arizona.

The Acuña cactus, found in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties, is one of two Arizona cacti granted endangered species protection Monday….

These plants, the Acuña cactus and the Fickeisen plains cactus, are the latest two to go through the process and be put on the endangered list.

That is one pretty plant which is the main criteria the government uses for determining what species get protected. I would protect that! The Acuña Cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis), also known as the Pineapple Cactus, is found in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.

The Fickeisen plains cactus (Pediocactus peeblesianus fickeiseniae), also known as the Navajo Pincushion Cactus, is tiny and also cute and also worthy of protection in my aesthetic opinion.


If a cactus can be “cute,” the Fickeisen plains cactus qualifies. “Cactophiles” are smitten by this petite plant with cream-colored flowers. Unfortunately, illegal collection by enthusiasts and commercial cactus dealers has contributed to the decline of many species in the genus Pediocactus.

Plants&Science13 Sep 2013 12:06 pm

Parodia scopa

Parodia scopa
Silver Ball Cactus

Small, globose to 4″ diameter with dense spines. Can grow tall, to 20″! But generally they stay pretty short. Moderate clumping, yellow flowers. Hardy to 25F. From Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

It turns out the fruit is dehiscent. Nice to know! Not particularly unusual. But maybe you’ve learned a new word and concept today? Science!

Plants&Science21 Jul 2013 12:17 pm

Here’s a couple of recently blooming Hoyas for you. Enjoy!

Hoya kerrii2

Hoya kerrii has the heart-shaped leaves so fondly remembered from Valentine’s Day.

Hoya Mathilde

Hoya “Mathilde” is new to us and we haven’t had any ready for sale yet, but here you get a preview of the flowers.


Hoya australis I featured a few months ago, but I thought I would add it to this entry anyway. I must be in Summer Repeats!

Let me tell you something more about the Hoyas. Hoyas are in the Milkweed Family, Asclepiadaceae is the former name of the former plant family now treated as a subfamily, Asclepiadoideae, of the Dogbane Family, Apocynaceae, which also includes such famous succulents as the Pachypodiums and Adeniums! (Science!)

Or let me quote a couple o’ the books in print..

“These tropical, vining plants have rigid, glossy leaves and bowl-shaped clusters of star-shaped flowers so stiff and shiny they seem to be made of wax. Provide rich soil, regular water, warm temperatures, and sun protection. Plants thrive in bright shade and humid hothouses, blooming best when pot-bound… Water minimally during winter dormancy.”
Debra Lee Baldwin, Designing with Succulents, p.196.

“Hoya and the closely related Dischidia comprise vining plants that barely fit the definition of a succulent…. Hoya and Dischidia species are native from India through New Guinea, northern Australia, and even Southern China. Most Hoyas grow more-or-less wholly as epiphytes. As a result, even though they are from tropical regions with heavy rainfall, they have to be able to withstand considerable dryness, and so have evolved thick, succulent leaves.”
Fred Dortort, The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World, also p.196!

Science14 Jun 2013 05:20 pm

Earlier today I posted a botanical illustration from the Smithsonian Collection. Science!

And here we find an aircraft from the Smithsonian Collection.

Photo: Eric Long / Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

It goes without saying that the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has some of the neatest collection of planes in the world… Designed and built by famed aircraft modeler Frank Ehling in the 1970s, they are the smallest flying models the Museum owns.

It’s a fly-powered aircraft, indeed. Science!

(h/t the straight dope)

Plants&Science14 Jun 2013 06:52 am


Pereskia pereskia (Cactaceae)
Plate Number: 1722
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 1 Pl 2, Figs 1,2 and 3
Collection: M. Simon, U.S.A., New York; flowering branch, fruits.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

From the Catalog of Botanical Illustrations, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution

© Smithsonian Institution

This cactus is now properly named Pereskia aculeata, P. Miller 1768. It’s from the Caribbean but can also sometimes be found in Florida. The pink flowers are fragrant and the fruit is edible. It is a climbing, semi-vining cactus with true spines and true non-succulent leaves.

Photography&Plants&Science21 May 2013 08:54 am

Below is a tricky one to identify.

First we have what is unquestionably Parodia rutilans:


Here’s a picture of the cactus under that giant yellow flower:


Every source I have indicates that P. rutilans and all of its subspecies all have brown spines. Now they can have a more purplish flower too. But the edges are purple, while the center still remains at least yellowish.

Then there’s this plant:


The cactus is superficially similar to the one above. But this one has very clear black spines that fade to gray. You can really see that in the picture. Other aspects of the spination are also very clear and clearly not Parodia rutilans or related subspecies. And while P. rutilans can have a purplish flower, it still has a yellow throat while this one has a whitish throat (the photo shows some reflection of the yellow stamens on the petals).

Also, this flower has had a lot of trouble opening without heat. It’s a spring bloomer and we usually do not have enough heat this time of year for this flower to fully open. So I have lots of pictures from the last few years of this plant with buds, but this is my first one with a fully open flower. Previously, from the spination and the buds I thought this might be an Echinocereus, and with the heat issue that makes a lot of sense too. But now that this flower is finally open I can say very clearly that this is not an Echinocereus.

What is the one factor that makes me certain? The purple stigma.

So what is it?

I have a book that very clearly indicates that this is Notocactus roseiflorus. Case Closed? No! All Notocactuses have been moved into Parodia for a couple decades now, so then the question is what Parodia would this species name have been moved to. And unfortunately the answer is Parodia rutilans. Which clearly this is not. No way. Not even close. Not a subspecies. So I went back and did some more research on Parodia rutilans and the plant at the top and really, it’s quite certain. To quote my copy of Anderson, “Aureoles densely white wooly… Central spines light reddish brown, straight or pointed slightly downward…”

Now I had been using a made up name, Parodia rutilans ssp. roseiflorus to indicate the P. rutilans that had the purplish flowers as mentioned above, but that’s not a real name. I just made it up. So that’s gone by the wayside. So now I have to live with the fact that Parodia rutilans’ flowers can vary and rename all the ones with the brown spines to just simply Parodia rutilans.

And since I can’t come up with any other name ever attached to this black-spined purple-flowered cactus I will have to suffice with Notocactus roseiflorus for now. Unless someone can help me come up with another name that is current.


California Native Plants&Questions&Science18 May 2013 09:40 am

A redacted letter from a concerned citizen:

Cactus Jungle:

You have on your list Fouquieria xxxx from California, this incorrect (sic)….. Fouquieria splendens is the only one that grows in the United States, all the others grow in Mexico and Baja. Your Fouquieria xxxx looks more like Fouquieria xxxx from Baja….. Do you have any more information on your plant? I have grown all of the known Fouquieria’s (sic) and have been in Mexico many times studying and collecting them.


Thank you for your concerns. The word “California” can refer to the current political boundaries of the state formerly governed by Arnold Schwartzenegger, or they can refer to the ecological and geological physical area (among other options). We prefer to include plants native to Baja California as part of the ecological area of California.

Thank you,

Editors Note: Science!

Questions&Science01 May 2013 10:47 am

Aaron asks the classic cactus vs. succulent question, on the Instagrams.

Agave, euphorbia, Pachypodium, aloes and others alike are not cactus correct? They are succulents yes? To be a cactus it has to be under the family of cactaceae? Educate me my mentor! aweezy_27


Yes, you are right! Only cactaceae are “true” cacti. All other spiny plants that look like a cactus are not a cactus. The difference is in the “aureoles” – only cactus have aureoles. On the other side, there are succulents in many plant families, including cactus etc…

Succulent is a strategy, Cactus is a Family.


Nursery&Photography&Science06 Apr 2013 10:57 am

The Echinocereus grandifloras are in full bloom this weekend, so you know it’s spring out here at the Cactus Jungle.


We call this one “Amber Peach”


Rikki insists this one is “Tropical Pink”


I named this one “White Lightning”

In case you were wondering, these are all hybrids. They are intergenic hybrids between Echinopsis and Echinocereus. You may see these on various websites and at certain nurseries under various and sundry names. Some call them Trichocereus Hybrids or Lobivia Hybrids or Tricho-Lobivia Hybrids, however current taxonomy puts all Trichocereus and Lobivias into Echinopsis.

You may also see in certain quarters where they insist on particular cultivar names. However we have gotten our original parent plants for these hybrids from the original hybridizer and he does not name them himself. So we are free to call them by our own cultivar names. If you have better names for them than we’ve come up with, we’re happy to take suggestions!

Photography&Science11 Feb 2013 08:19 am

Some people think that our cute little blooming Delospermas are Ice Plants, just like along the highways and coastlines of California.

But they’re not! I mean, sure, they’re related and all, and the leaves are similar enough and the fruits are also edible enough so that maybe you could call them Ice Plants if you really wanted to, but the biggest difference is that these are not invasive. So I choose not to call them Ice Plants.

Here are some in bloom right now at the nursery. Look at all the pretty flower colors!

Magenta Delosperma

Would you call that Magenta? I would. Maybe some would say it veers toward fuschia. I would not.

Yellow Delosperma

Yellow is easy to ID. Plus it is particularly popular with the native bees. They like yellow! There must be lots of native yellow flowers, like the Mimuluses. I would like to name this color, Rapeseed Yellow.

Pink Delosperma

Pink is a varied color. Is there a shade of pink that would match this? It kind of matches MAC Eyeshadow’s “Swish” Swatch.

Red Delosperma

Red! Finally! Actually kind of a crimson red, so you know its good.

Orange Delosperma

…and Orange.

By the way, the most popular Delosperma flower color on my Instagram feed is…

Wait for it…



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