Saturday, February 8, 2014

HortiCOOlture - The Mutant Cactus

Fig. 1   Hibotan:  Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var.friedrichii 

Mutation happens when there is a sudden change in the DNA sequence of a gene which contributes largely to the diversity among plants.

Hibotan or Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. friedrichii) is a mutant cactus. This mutation is characterized by the absence of chlorophyll in the plant.  The colors of the normal Gymnocalycium range from green to greenish purple, but their mutated counterparts - lacking the green pigmentation - exhibit bright colors in yellow, pink, creamy-white, orange, or red. 

Plants are by nature autotrophs - capable of producing their own food through the process of photosynthesis. However, the absence of chlorophyll, a key component to photosynthesis, disqualifies the mutant cactus (Hibotan) from being a self-feeding organism.  On their own, they will not survive for more than a week since they cannot produce sugars for nourishment.  However, in spite of its inability to photosynthesize, the absence of the green pigmentation resulted in clear vivid coloration of the plant that mimics the vibrant hue of flowers.  Indeed, the colorful part of the Hibotan (Fig. 1) is not a flower.  On the contrary, it is a handicapped plant that is grafted to a physiologically functioning plant for nutritional support.  The composite plant with brightly colored scion on green stock creates an appearance of a cactus in bloom (Fig.1).

It is not a flower -- it is a chlorophyll-free cactus attached to a green stock.

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