Tag Archives: botany

Crested Saguaro

Crested saguaro

Today I took the morning off to do a hike with Diane and friend Susan. I did this mostly because other caving-related conservation work on recent and future weekends has made it impossible for me to go hiking with my wife. Since she hikes with Susan on Fridays, I decided to join them.

We went to Tucson Mountain Park, on the west side of Tucson, to do one of the more well known trails. The photo to the right, taken by Diane back in 2016, shows the spectacular crested saguaro she discovered in plain site on that hike but had gone unnoticed by us for years.

Everyone knows saguaros for their classic western look that makes it the state wildflower of Arizona. Normally they have a central post that sometimes has one or more arms extending from it. For normal saguaros the tops of the central post and the arms are almost always symmetrical and rounded.

However, in rare cases (about 1 in 10,000) something strange happens and a saguaro begins to grow wildly at its peak, or even along its entire length. Such freaks are called crested or cristate saguaros, and only about 2,200 have been found throughout the saguaro range in the southwest. When you find one it is always with a sense of triumph and wonder.

We began to look for crested saguaros during hikes around 2015, after a friend had shown us two on a nearby hike that we had done frequently without ever noticing this wonder of nature that was right before our eyes. Thus Diane’s discovery to the right in 2016. Today we went back on that same hike and found it again. It had not changed in any way in the past four years that I could tell when comparing pictures. Regardless, it is one of the wildest crested saguaros I’ve ever seen.

No one really knows why this happens. My theory today, in looking at this one, is that it was on drugs.

Irreplaceable plant specimens destroyed by Australian customs.

Do the paperwork! Because the proper paperwork was not completed, and then mailed to the wrong address, Australian customs officials destroyed six daisy specimens, some collected in the 1700s.

Earlier this week, many botanists learned about the destruction of six type specimens of daisies—some collected during a French expedition to Australia from 1791 to 1793—which the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Paris had mailed along with 99 other specimens to the Queensland Herbarium in Brisbane, Australia.

After the package arrived in Brisbane in early January, the specimens were held up at customs because the paperwork was incomplete. Biosecurity officers asked the Queensland Herbarium for a list of the specimens and how they were preserved, but the herbarium sent its responses to the wrong email address, delaying the response by many weeks. In March, the officers requested clarification, but then incinerated the samples. “It’s like taking a painting from the Louvre and burning it,” says James Solomon, herbarium curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which enforces biosecurity rules, part of the problem was that the samples had a declared value of $2—and its agents routinely destroy low-value items that have been kept longer than 30 days. Michel Guiraud, director of collections at NMNH, says his museum’s policy is to put minimal values on shipments. “If it is irreplaceable, there is no way to put an insurance value on it,” he says.

It appears that the fault here is not entirely limited to Australian customs. Both the Paris and Brisbane museums appear to have been very sloppy in this matter.

The result, for now, is that some research organizations are now ceasing all shipments to Australia.

The new rules on naming and describing plants now allow scientists to do so in English instead of Latin.

A victory for English: As of January 1 the new rules for naming and describing plants have allowed scientists to do so in English instead of Latin, and to do so online.

The earlier code, which required botanists to both write diagnoses in Latin and publish only in print journals, made the documentation of new taxa a laborious process.