May 17, 2022

Over the weekend Melissa came in and excitedly showed me a very small cacti that had begun to flower.  She had purchased the small plant early last year and had alternately been providing the loving care and disregard all cactus seem to require.  She has impressed the succulent mantra on me, “When in doubt, cut it out,” (i.e., leave it alone).  The stress of being uprooted, shipped, and transplanted had been all the cacti could take.  Even now it was not too much bigger than it was when Melissa received it.  Another mantra is, “Go slow, it takes a long time to grow.”  Now, after having survived a year in the small pot where Melissa placed it, it was producing a bloom.  This appeared to be a small barrel (genus: Parodia) cactus but Melissa was unsure which species.  She suggested I google photo it.

When I looked online, I found the Parodia penicillata is usually a small growing, solitary cactus native to northern Argentina.  The pale green to bright green stem begins globose (spherical) and grows into a tall columnar (cylindrical) cactus.  The cactus may grow up to 18-20 inches (40-50 cm) tall and 3 ½ inches (9 cm) wide.  The spines are generally a glassy, bristly straw-color but may be pale yellow, or pale brown, and become dense on the plant.  The radial spines are thin and silky, while the central spines are longer, stiffer, and more colorful.  Funnel-shaped flowers bloom in summer in either orange-yellow or brilliant red, that form into a pointed (apical) circle.  The dried flowers will remain on the plant body for a long time after blooming.

The genus Parodia refers to flowering plants in the cactus family (Cactaceae) that are native to the uplands of Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay.  The genus has about 50 species, many of which have been transferred from what were once part of the Eriocactus, Notocactus, and Wigginsia genus.  This change has come about as botanist gain understanding on the relationship between species based on DNA research.  The concept that one species must be descended from another is known as cladistics.  Cladistics requires there can be only one line of lineage for each species, and that you cannot have two species of the same genus that are not genetically related.  The lineage must be simple and monophyletic (single ancestor).  Conversely, cladistics forbids multiple ancestors for different species in the same group (paraphyletic).  Since cladistics is the model now used to determine relationships between species and higher levels of groupings (genus, family, order, etc.), taxonomic reorganization has resulted as DNA evidence is gathered and analyzed.

THOUGHTS:  Parodia is an example for how DNA changes taxonomic classes.  Long-held beliefs about relatedness of species are thrown out because the DNA of the two are different, are not as closely related as previously thought, or the two species get assigned to different genus entirely.  Other times the recent names are thrown out and the older name restored based on the new evidence (the taxonomist had it right).  DNA has forced researchers to reevaluate the idea of race established in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Race is a visual classification that is not based on genetic difference.  Like the botanists, we need to throw it out.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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