How Did Cactuses Evolve

May 15, 2006

In a groundbreaking new study in the June issue of American Naturalist, Erika J. Edwards (Yale University and University of California, Santa Barbara) and Michael J. Donoghue (Yale University) explore how leafy, "normal" plants evolved into the leafless succulent cactus.

"The cactus form is often heralded as a striking example of the tight relationship between form and function in plants," write the authors. "A succulent, long-lived photosynthetic system allows cacti to survive periods of extreme drought while maintaining well-hydrated tissues."

Recent molecular phylogenetic work has confirmed that Pereskia, a genus that consists of 17 species of leafy shrubs and trees, is where the earliest cactus lineages began. Using field studies and environmental modeling, Edwards and Donoghue found that the Pereskia species already showed water use patterns that are similar to the leafless, stem-succulent cacti.

"[Our] analyses suggest that several key elements of cactus ecological function were established prior to the evolution of the cactus life form," explain the authors. "Such a sequence may be common in evolution, but it has rarely been documented as few studies have incorporated physiological, ecological, anatomical, and phylogenetic data."

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Magnetic Cactus Experimentally Demonstrates Mathematical Plant Patterns

Related Stories

Chile's ALMA probes for origins of universe

October 26, 2012

(AP)—Earth's largest radio telescope is growing more powerful by the day on this remote plateau high above Chile's Atacama desert, where visitors often feel like they're planting the first human footprints on the red crust ...

Restoration as science: case of the collared lizard

August 22, 2011

In a time when a five-year grant is considered a long-term grant, Alan R. Templeton, PhD, a professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has managed to follow some of the species he studies ...

Recommended for you

Study shows mixed fortunes for Signy penguins

October 27, 2016

A forty year study on a remote Antarctic island shows that while populations of two penguin species are declining, a third is increasing. Analysis of census data from Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands reveals that, ...

Neutrons prove the existence of 'spiral spin-liquid'

October 27, 2016

Magnetic moments ("spins") in magnetic solids are capable of forming the most diverse structures. Some of them are not only of interest from a scientific point of view, but also from a technical standpoint: processors and ...

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.