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Tumble Frond Cactus

This ball-shaped succulent behaves in opposition to other plant life. Like many small animals that hide from the heat of the day, so does this rootless succulent. After nightfall, as the air cools the long, slender hairy fronds of the cactus unfurl skyward. As the temperature drops and humidity rises these hairs absorb the miniscule amount of moisture. The plant then draws this moisture into its core for storage. As the sun comes up the cactus retracts the fronds until it once more resembles a spiny spheroid.   Tumble Frond Cacti can be blown by the wind as they do not have a means of securing themselves to the ground. Many can pick up objects as they roll and the spines pierce whatever odd things they bump into. On the chance they roll onto or into actual water or the spines pierce something containing sufficient moisture the cactus will immediately unfurl even in the daylight and bloom. These vibrant displays also serve as beacons to visual predators to look for possible prey. If enough cacti are blooming at once the perfume can be quite strong and there are reports of people collapsed nearby, some of which have windbown tumble frond cacti spines piercing their skin.   Large numbers of these plants can be blown in windstorms and become a significant hazard. When digging out vehicles after such a storm large numbers have been found caught under and against them. Careless excavators have fallen into clusters of these cacti and triggered blooms which caused the evacuation of the site.   Tumble Frond Cacti propagate by budding after sucessful pollen transfer. Buds grow and eventually break off as the cacti tumbles in the wind. This small cacti often get tangled in the hides and hair of animals and may be carried for great distances before the spines break off and it falls free.   The cactus is most vulnerable when it has opened at night and the moisture-gathering fronds are extended into the air. It is a valuable survival tactic to wait for these cacti to open, then slice through the fronds near the base and drink the liquid which flows freely. The body of the cactus is tough and woody but can be chopped and added to a solar still to extract the moisture. In the center is a nut-like kernel which can be ground into a paste, and heated to denature the alkaloids which make it unpalatable. The dried paste keeps well and can be rehydrated to make a gruel. The spines are also useful as needles when polished and waxed.   It is not uncommon for temporary camps to seek out and find tumble frond cacti and place them in a perimeter for security and possible emergency supplies.


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