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Rootted cutting of a fertile branch with cephalium. In 1970s some tops of flowering stems have been cut off in habitat, imported and offered at high prices. Technically, they are inflorescences, not plants, and although they can be rooted, casualties are high, and subsequent growth either spoils the cephalium or consists of normal, barren shoots from beneath it ( Rowley G. D. 1978). This picture was taken about in 1980 at the farm house of G. C. Jain (owner of Carona Shoe Co.), Bombay. Backebergia militaris owes its name to the resemblance to a guardsman's busby, apparently grafted on to a trichocereus-like plant. But although the uninitiated would immediately say mat it is a graft, the upper part is in fact a cephalium or head which develops on the top of the plant.
Origin and Habitat: Backebergia militaris is endemic SW Mexico, and is distributed in the states of Guerrero, Jalisco and Michoacan. The subpopulations are naturally fragmented and rare. The total population size is estimated to be less than 9,000, although it is wide ranging the subpopulations are naturally rare and isolated and total populations size is small, with all isolated subpopulations having less that 15 mature individuals each.
Altitude range: 100-600 m above sea level.
Habitat and ecology: The environment in which B. militaris occurs is very hot and most inhospitable, corresponding to the vegetation zones delimited as Bosque espinoso and Bosque tropical caducifolio (tropical deciduous forests). The drier parts of these zones are characterized by an abundance of columnar cacti, which sometimes form veritable forests. Seasonal hurricanes often occur (25-41 per annum). Annual rainfall is between 400 and 1200 mm, with consistent rainstorms, but evaporation due to heat and wind is above 2000 mm of water in a year. B. militaris establishes inside the thorn forest and later overtops it before forming its characteristic golden-spined cephalium. Associated cacti: Pachycereus marginatus, Stenocereus kerberi, Stenocereus standleyi, and Isolatocereus dumortieri.
In the 1970s numerous top-cuts of stems with the remarkable cephalia were imported to Europe and rooted for horticultural trade, but few have been coaxed into vegetative growth. In recent years it is no more threatened than the forest in which it grows. In places this forest is being disturbed or even cleared for agriculture and cattle ranching, but for the most part the region is probably too dry to sustain intensive agriculture without considerable irrigation. Ongoing threats to the habitat are resulting in a decline in the population. This species is sometimes used as an ornamental.
- Pachycereus militaris (Audot) P.V.Heath
Pachycereus militaris (Audot) P.V.Heath
Calyx 2(3): 108 (1992)
- Pachycereus militaris (Audot) P.V.Heath
- Backebergia militaris (Audot) Bravo ex Sánchez-Mej.
- Cephalocereus militaris (Audot) H.E.Moore
- Cereus militaris Audot
- Mitrocereus militaris (Audot) Bravo
- Pachycereus chrysomallus (Lem.) Britton & Rose
ENGLISH: golden-fleece, military-cap, teddy-bear cactus, Grenadier's Cap
SPANISH (Español): Tiponche, Gorro de Grenadero, Organo de Gorro
SWEDISH (Svenska): soldatpelarkaktus
Description: Backebergia militaris (Pachycereus militaris) is a tree-like cactus, up to 5-6 m hight, with numerous erect branches that feature a special terminal cap (cephalium; Latin for head) from which the small flowers push out. When the stem is about 6 m tall, each shoot tip is converted into a dense head of helically arranged tubercles, some of which produce flowers, and the crowded areoles and flowers are protected by numerous long, golden bristles. This bristly cephalium grows from the tip, where new areoles and flowers are produced, and the oldest bristles blacken with age.
Stems: Numerous, cylindrical, 5-6 m tall, erect c. 12-15 cm in diameter, dark greyish green. It grows rapidly, over a meter per year, and each new growth is revealed by a constriction. Usually there are no secondary branches; plants grow solitary until they are about three meters high. In adult and old plants the stem is enlarged at the base and forming a showy dark brown foot. The larger and older specimens have many broken branches, and stems break most easily where there are constrictions. B. militaris is one of those species where darkening of an exposed wound occurs.
Ribs: For many years each upright young branch has about 5-7 ribs but does not produce flowers. Later the number of ribs encrises to 9-11.
Non-flowering areoles: 5-10 mm apart.
Spines: 8-14, weak, of which 2-4 central spines about 1 cm long, grey and strong, and about 10 thinner radial spines, of the same length, with scarce and little persistent basal wool.
flowering zone (cephalium): Formed by a mass of bristly golden yellow spines, c. 5.5 cm long, shiny and prickly, impenetrable because they are densely entwined. Year after year the golden colour turns to hues of orange, burnt red, dark brown and finally black. This phenomenon causes the appearance of darker and darker bands, 15-20 cm high, each representing one year’s growth. Year after year the golden colour turns to hues of orange, burnt red, dark brown and finally black. The transition from sterile branch to inflorescence may be sudden and equilateral, or asymmetric, occurring first on one side of the stem. This cephalium is unique in the whole Cactaceae family, that is, it bears an inflorescence with genetically determinate growth, a deciduous one. It grows 10-15 cm a year, until it is 5-7 years old. At this point a strange and peculiar phenomenon occurs: it stops growing, degenerates, dies and falls from the plant to the ground. B. militaris cephalia seem especially wasteful with their abscission after a few years.
Flowers: The flowers are nocturnal appear, solitary and casually distributed, on the portion of inflorescence formed in the years preceding the new vegetative phase. The flowers have a shape that specializes them for attracting moths: they are rather small, produce a limited amount of pollen. Pericarpel and tube greenish yellow, the numerous triangular scales with dense white, woolly hairs and a few bristles in the axils; inner perianth-segments pale green. Flowering occurs in March and April, with the new vegetative season.
Fruits: Oblong, 3.5 x 2 cm, red at first, soon dry, bristly at the apex only with has few seeds (10-20). The remains of the dry flower adhere to the fruit and extend outwards from the inflorescence’s bristles.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Terrazas, T., Chazaro, M. & Arreola, H. 2013. Pachycereus militaris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T152409A633665. Downloaded on 02 December 2017.
2) Arthur C. Gibson, Park S. Nobel "The Cactus Primer" Harvard University Press, 1990
3) Haustein, "Der Kosmos-Kakteenfuhrer", 87 (1983)
4) Cullmann et al., "Kakteen", edn 5, 135 (1984)
5) Hunt et al. (ed.), "New cactus lexicon", pl. 32 (2006).
6) James Cullen, Sabina G. Knees, H. Suzanne Cubey, J. M. H. Shaw, "The European Garden Flora Flowering Plants: A Manual for the Identification of Plants Cultivated in Europe, Both Out-of-Doors and Under Glass", Cambridge University Press, 11 August 2011
7) Zavala-Hurtado J.A., Vite F. Ezcurra E., 1998. "Stem titling and pseudocephalium orientation in Cephalocerus columna-trajani (Cactaceae): a functional interpretation", Ecology, 79(1): 340 - 348.
8) Edward F. Anderson, Salvador Arias Montes, Nigel P. Taylor, Andrea Cattabriga, "Threatened cacti of Mexico", Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1994
9) Arias, S. and Terrazas, T. 2009. "Taxonomic revision of Pachycereus (Cactaceae)". Systematic Botany 1(34): 68-83.
10) CITES. 2008. "Appendices I, II and II". (Accessed: 23 September 2008).
11) SEMARNAT. 2010. "Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010, Proteccion ambiental-Especies nativas de Mexico de flora y fauna silvestres-Categorias de riesgo y especificaciones para su inclusion, exclusion o cambio-Lista de especies en riesgo". Diario Oficial de la Federacion.
12) Mauseth, J. D. (2006), "Sructure-function in highly modified shoots of Cactaceae", Ann. Bot. 98: 901-926.
13) Vovides, A.P., V. Luna & G. Medina. 1997. "Relacion de algunas plantas y hongos mexicanos raros, amenazados y en peligro de extincion y sugerencias para su conservacion". Act. Bot. Mex. 39: 1-42.
14) Gordon D. Rowley, The illustrated encyclopedia of succulents, Crown Publishers, 01 August 1978
15) Backebergia militaris in: Amateur Gardening, Volume 92, 1975
16) Backebergia militaris (Audot) H. Bravo Hollis in: CACTUS & Co. 2 (8) 2004
17) Hartmann S., J.D. Nason, D. Bhattacharya, 2002 - "Phylogenetic origins of Lophocereus (Cactaceae) and the Senita Cactus - Senita Noth Pollination Mutualism", American Journal of Botany 89 (7): 1085-1092
18) Helia Bravo-Hollis, 1953. "Un Nuevo Genero de la Familia de las Cactaceas - Backebergia", An. Inst. Biol. Méx. XXIV, 2: 215-232.
19) Helia Bravo-Hollis, 1955. A new Genus in the Cactaceae Family - Backebergia, Cact. & Succ. J. US, XVII, 1: 3-12.
20) Helia Bravo-Hollis, 1961. "Las flores de Backebergia militaris", Cact. y Suc. Mex. IV, 4: 90.
21) 1978. "Las Cactaceas de Mexico. I": pp. 662-666, UNAM, Messico
22) Helia Bravo-Hollis, 1991, "Las Cactaceas de Mexico. II": p. 285, UNAM, Messico
23) Hernando Sánchez-Mejorada R., 1973. "The correct name of the Grenadier’s Cap", Cact. & Succ. J. US XLV: 171-174, USA.
24) Holland N., T.H. Fleming, 1999. "Mutualistic interactions between Upiga Virescens (Piralidae), a pollinating seed-consumer, and Lophocereus schottii (Cactaceae)", Ecology 80: 2074-2084.
25) Hunt D., 1987. "New and unfamiliar names of Cactaceae to be used in the European Garden Flora", Bradleya 5: 91-94.
26) Hunt D. & Taylor N., 1990. "The Genera of Cactaceae: progress towards consensus", Bradleya 7: 85-107.
27) Mauseth, J., 1999. "Comparative Anatomy of Espostoa, Pseudoespostoa, Trixanthocereus and Vatricania (Cactaceae)", Bradleya 17: 27-37.
28) McCarten N., 1973. "A visit to the valley of little hell", Cact. & Succ. . US XLV: 103-107.
29) Moore H.E., 1975. "In Nomenclatural notes for Hortus Third", Baileya 19 (4): 165.
30) Nobel P.S., 1988. "Environmental Biology of Agaves and Cacti", Cambridge University Press.
31) Nobel P.S., 2002. "Cacti, Biology and Uses", p. 36. Univ. Calif. Berkeley, USA.
32) Nobel P.S., 2002. "Physiological Ecology of Columnar Cacti", in "Columnar Cacti and Their Mutualists", University of Arizona Press.
33) Rodriguez J.C. & al., 1991. "Estudio del elemento endemico de la Cuenca del Rio Balsas, Poster presented at the 'XV Congreso Mexicano de Botanica' 13-21/10/2001."
34) Rzedowski J., 1994. "Vegetacion de Mexico", Limusa Ed. Mexico.
35) Taylor N.P., 1991. "The genus Melocactus (Cactaceae) in Central and South America", Bradleya 9:1-80.
36) Von Willert D.J., Eller, B.M., Werger M.J.A., Brinckmann E., Ihlenfeldt D.D., 1982. "Life strategies of Succulents in Deserts", Cambridge University Press.
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