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  • Strategy

Cactus hides from the sun: mescal cactus


Before and after of cactus dehydration / Frank Vincen.. / LicenseGFDL - Gnu Free Document License

The shoot of the mescal cactus adapts to seasonal water availability via dehydration-induced shrinking below the desert floor, and hydration-induced swelling to reemerge after rainfall.

"He refers to the impressive adaptation of the mescal cactus Lophophora williamsii, which converts the dehydration-induced shrinking during the beginning of the dry season to reduce the shoot length and submerge below the desert floor. After just one seasonal rainfall the hydrating shoot reemerges by pushing the photosynthesizing apex out of its soil cover into the light and open air." (Bar-Cohen 2006:489)

Here's another species:
"We investigated how the 'living rock' cactus Ariocarpus fissuratus, like other low-growing desert plants, can endure potentially lethal high temperatures at the soil surface. Specifically, we examined how shoot descent by root contraction in the presence or absence of soil rocks influences shoot temperatures and transpiration…Plants embedded in rocky soil survived an extreme heat episode, unlike plants in sandy soil, though rocks did not moderate low temperatures. Root contraction occurred regardless of season and soil moisture. Xylem conduits (wide-band tracheids) formed a compressible lattice that decreased root length as rays enlarged the root base radially. Plant position in the soil did not affect transpiration…Contractile roots pulled plants of A. fissuratus into the soil at rates of 6 – 30 mm [per year]. Maintaining shoots level with the soil surface kept plant temperatures below the high lethal temperature and improved survivorship in soil shaded by surface rocks." (Garrett et al. 2010:1951)
About the inspiring organism
Med_plant Lophophora williamsii
Lophophora williamsii (Lem. ex Salm-Dyck) Coult.
Common names: Peyote, mescal cactus

Habitat(s): Desert
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Design irrigation systems that submerge themselves into the soil when soil is dry, initiate wetting until the soil reaches the proper level of moistness, which then triggers the system to shut off.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Irrigation

Department of Biology
Gretchen North
Occidental College
Yoseph Bar-Cohen. 2006. Biomimetics: biologically inspired technologies. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis. 527 p.
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Garrett TY; Huynh C-V; North GB. 2010. Root contraction helps protect the "living rock" cactus Ariocarpus fissuratus from lethal high temperatures when growing in rocky soil. American Journal of Botany. 97(12): 1951-1960.
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over 7 years ago
Hi. I don't know where they were taken. You can go to the Gallery and find more information about the photos, including the website source in some cases. The one you see when you're on the page came from wikipedia commons.
over 7 years ago
Beautiful. Where were these photos taken?
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