Plants&Science26 May 2012 11:42 am

Echinocereus purpureus, although the recently out-of-print The Cactus Family (Anderson) says its more recently changed to the corrected E. reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii, but we also grow E. reichenbachii and then there’s E. baileyi which they say is more properly known as E. reichenbachii ssp. baileyi and E. armatus which Anderson insists is really E. reichenbachii ssp. armatus, so that’s all just too confusing and I prefer to go with the E. purpureus for this one.

Now that’s what Botany and Botanical Latin and the whole Horticulture trade is all about – getting the proper names right.


(The Merry Widow Cactus common name above is real, although Anderson also has listed the less distinctive Purple Candle Cactus.)

Reader Photos&Science27 Mar 2012 09:54 am

Mr. Subjunctive from Plants are the Strangest People sends along a funny.

From Iowa.

This is growing on E Washington St. in Washington, IA; the photo was taken 26 March 2012. I’ve seen it on previous trips as well, and thought of y’all, but things hadn’t worked out to take a picture of it, and we don’t actually go to Washington that often.

I think the bloom is new since the last time I saw it. Both the color (black?!) and form (more like an aroid flower than a cactus flower, really) are noteworthy. I presume, based on the bloom, that this is a Discocactus of some sort? It’s a slow grower, but I suppose that’s to be expected for any Iowa cacti.

-Mr. Subjunctive

First you need to click the picture above to get a closer look at the details. And then, here’s a Discocactus in bloom, so we can judge the similarities and determine the species.

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

Plate Number: 1806
Publication: The Cactaceae Vol. 3 Pl 24, Fig 4
Client: Britton, N.L. and Rose, J.N. – Size: 11×14

Discocactus bahiensis (Cactaceae) – Type; Collection: Rose, J.N. 19783, Brazil, Bahia; flowering plant.
Artist: Eaton, Mary Emily – Date unknown – watercolor

No, definitely not a Discocactus.


Science27 Feb 2012 11:26 am

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)

Science24 Jan 2012 03:25 pm

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!


Science12 Jan 2012 07:15 am

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

Science07 Dec 2011 08:19 am

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

Science18 Sep 2011 12:59 pm

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

Science01 Jul 2011 12:17 pm

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.

Science20 May 2011 09:05 am

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.

Science17 May 2011 10:45 am

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.


Science14 May 2011 04:00 pm

How odd! I thought this was a cactus blog, with succulents and california natives and other assorted drought tolerant plants thrown in for good measure.

News&Questions&Science11 May 2011 01:11 pm

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.


Science19 Mar 2011 08:40 pm

Creepy video from the BBC.

Science01 Feb 2011 11:19 am

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 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.

Science14 Jan 2011 11:34 pm

With help from Snoopy.


Blogs&Science02 Dec 2010 12:06 pm

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?

Science02 Dec 2010 09:27 am

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?

Science08 Nov 2010 12:40 pm

From Kew, comes this very hard to understand video (the accent, that is). Or you can click here for the photos.

How-to&Science01 Nov 2010 06:57 am

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.


Science11 Sep 2010 11:57 am

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!

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