SCV Outdoor Report: Snoring Cacti
By: Wendy Langhans
Writing the SCV Outdoor report is, for me, like going on a treasure hunt. While preparing one story, I never know what else I will discover. Take last week’s story about cacti & succulents - I discovered three odd things about cacti that I didn’t know before.
1) Odd fact #1: Cacti are native to the Americas. Did you know that all but one out the approximately 2,500 species of cacti are native to the New World? And even that one is open to argument. Some sources suggest that the seeds of Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) were carried from the America’s to Africa in the digestive system of migrating birds. That’s a distance of more than 2,000 miles - all I can say is those birds must have been mighty constipated.
2) Odd fact #2: Cactus spines are modified leaves. And unlike the green leaves we are familiar with, these modified leaves don’t contain chlorophyl and they don’t photosynthesize.
But those spines sure are prickly. They are hardened “with pectin and calcium carbonate”, chemicals which are found in our everyday life. If you spread jam on your slice of toast at breakfast, you are ingesting pectin, which is used to thicken jam and jelly. And if you take a multi-mineral supplement, you’re ingesting calcium carbonate. (By the way...calcium carbonate may cause a bit of constipation. So perhaps those migratory birds nibbled on a few Mistletoe cactus spines, as well as the seeds, before they took off from Africa.)
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3) Odd fact #3: Cacti breathe at night. Like most plants, cacti have small holes known as stomata, which allow carbon dioxide to enter the plant and oxygen to escape, as part of the chemical process known as photosynthesis. Specialized “guard cells” surround the stomata, normally opening them during the day and closing them at night. But when the stomata are open, water also evaporates. This can pose a problem, especially in a hot, dry environment. So cacti and succulents have developed a specialized type of photosynthesis, known as CAM photosynthesis. “In CAM photosynthesis, stomata open only at night when the plant is relatively cool, so less moisture is lost through transpiration.” So cacti breathe at night, with their mouths open. In other words, they snore.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, January 4, 11, 18 & 25.
Saturday mornings, January 14 & 28.
Saturday, January 21, 8-10 AM. Flying into a New Year at Towsley Canyon. Birds love Southern California’s gentle winters as much as we do. Volunteer Naturalist Roger will show you Towsley’s birds from near and far. Beginners are welcome on this easy walk. Bring binoculars. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
Sunday, January 22, 12:30-2:30 AM. Adaptations for Survival. Towsley Canyon. Join Volunteer Naturalist Wendy for an afternoon resolving winter’s dilemma. Discover their amazing adaptations to survive the chilly days. For a map and directions, click here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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