The Cactus Patch
Volume 4       July 2001      Number 7

Succulent Survey - Cacti on the Move
by Stephen Cooley

While you are bustling about watering, preening, and weeding your succulents, you may not realize that some of your plants might be moving about as well. I'm not talking about the slow turning of a leaf towards the light or the imperceptible opening of a flower bud. I mean discernible activity, honest-to-goodness right-before-your-eyes motion. Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) which entraps insects by quickly closing its claw-like leaf. You may also have seen the Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica) whose leaves quickly fold up when touched. But did you know that some cacti also have fast moving parts?

I first became acquainted with this phenomenon thanks to a Cylindropuntia that I picked up several years ago when my collection and I were still young (after all this time I still haven't put a name to it, though early on my wife called it the "Mickey Mouse Plant" because it had two large 'ears'). During the summer it produces brilliant, pure white flowers each with a brush of yellow stamens in the middle. On a summer day with the sun beating down and the air warm I touched the anthers - and to my surprise, they moved! I tried it again on another flower and the stamens quickly closed in on the central pistil. I delightedly repeated this until all the flowers were used up and my fingertip was yellow.

The fancy term that someone invented for this action is Seismonastic Movement - movement brought on by touch. I have noticed since then that other cacti in my collection exhibit seismonastic movement, including Turbinicarpus and Notocactus and others that I have forgotten (at the time I didn't realize that I would be writing an essay on the subject, so I didn't take notes). It works best when the flowers are in a bright, warm location. Insects often trip the stamens before you get there, but come back later and they will be ready again. Amaze your friends and family! And add one more little eccentricity to your already over-exuberant hobby.

If you would like to share some of your garden happenings, let me known and I'll get it in the newsletter.

Cylindropuntia 'Mickey Mouse'

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