On the mechanical properties of the rare endemic cactus Stenocereus eruca and the related species S. gummosus

Karl J. Niklas, Francisco Molina-Freaner, Clara Tinoco-Ojanguren, Christopher J. Hogan, Dominick J. Paolillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


We examined the hypothesis that the procumbent growth habit of the rare, columnar cactus Stenocereus eruca is in part the result of a diminution of the mechanical properties of stem tissues by comparing the properties of S. eruca plants with those of the putatively closely related semi-erect shrub S. gummosus. Intact stems and surgically removed anatomically comparable regions of the stems of both species were tested in bending and tension to determine their Young's modulus and breaking stress. A computer program was used to evaluate the contribution of each region to the capacity of entire stems to resist bending forces. Our analyses indicate that the principal stiffening agent in the stems of both species is a peripheral tissue complex (= epidermis and collenchyma in the primary plant body) that has a significantly higher tensile breaking stress and greater extensibility for S. gummosus than that of S. eruca. Computer simulations indicate that the wood of either species contributes little to bending stiffness, except in very old portions of S. gummosus stems, because of its small volume and central location in the stem. These and other observations are interpreted to support the hypothesis that S. eruca evolved a procumbent growth habit as the result of manifold developmental alterations some of which reduced the capacity of tissues to support the weight of stems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-674
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Cactaceae
  • Flexural rigidity
  • Procumbent stem growth
  • Stem bending
  • Stenocereus


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