Monday, November 29, 2021

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Amazing Evolution of the Monkey Tail Cactus

These pictures show a plant known as the Monkey Tail Cactus, Cleistocactus colademononis. It lives on cliffs in Peru and Bolivia and has become highly adapted to the cliff habitat.

The most notable thing you can see about the Monkey Tail Cactus is that it hangs down. It actually grows downwards. This is odd because most plants exhibit positive phototropism and negative gravitropism, meaning they grow towards light and against gravity.  These are fundamental factors for the survival of most plants as they seek to grow upwards towards their only source of energy, the sun.

So think of the evolution of plant growth regulation that was needed to make a plant grow away from the light and following gravity. The genus Cleistocactus are generally tall, thin, upright growing cactuses. However, it must have been a terrible disadvantage for a tall thin cactus to grow upwards on a cliff with only small root space and poor footing. Such a disadvantage in fact, that most early cactus colonizers of cliffs fell over and did not succeed in this new habitat.  Over time however a few plants were less inclined to grow upwards and so natural selection was towards plants that grew downwards. 

Eventually however, if they kept growing downwards, they would all end up at the bottom of the cliff. So they developed flowers, fruits, and seeds favored by birds, so the birds would carry their seeds upwards and start new generations of the cactus further up the cliff.

- Dave


A new acquisition at the botanic garden, the Tassel Fern, Huperzia squarrosa

A new acquisition at the botanic garden, the Tassel Fern, Huperzia squarrosa (aka Phlegmariurus squarrosus, Lycopodium squarrosum). It doesn't look anything like the fronds of a fern. In fact it's a living fossil that sits somewhere between a moss and a fern, and first appeared on Earth about 380 million years ago during the Devonian period. This was a time long before the dinosaurs, known as the Age of Fishes, when the sea was dominated by jawless and armored fishes, when the first primitive sharks evolved, and the first lobe-finned fishes began to haul themselves onto tidal flats to become the first land vertebrates. This was a time that marked the first extensive colonization of the land by plants, and without any large land-dwelling herbivores, they thrived.

Don't ask me how much this thing cost, or how long it took me to find one, too much and too long, but I think it's a worthy addition to the botanic garden.

- Dave

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Dave Burns

I had 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 20% of my body back in 2014 from playing with flash powder, the stuff that gives fireworks their pretty colors. It's basically powdered magnesium and oxidizer. I had to be helicopter lifted to the burn unit. I spent days in ICU and three weeks in hospital. The pain was level 10 for weeks and my body began to shutdown. I had to have skin graft surgery and blood transfusions. I had over 500 staples in my skin from the skin grafts. After getting out of hospital I had to get around with a cane for months as I could barely walk from the pain and skin tightness. I had to go to physical therapy for six months and wear compression garments for a year. I was off work for 3 months and got laid off once I came back. I ended up with drug problems from the pain killers. It completely changed my life. My hospital bill was half a million dollars. It could have been a LOT worse. 
Don't mess around with high powered flammables.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Fake News Media Exposed

For Memorial day, I'd like us all to take a moment to remember that the big bad orange man did not refuse to visit the dead American WWI soldiers at Aisne-Marne cemetery in France because they were "losers" and "suckers". We know this story is untrue because: 1. Whitehouse staff who were present that day have publicly refuted it. 2. The Atlantic magazine, who originated the "losers" and "suckers" story, covered the incident two years earlier when it happened, but made no mention of why the visit was actually canceled, despite them probably having been told the reason. 3. Electronic communications from the US Navy obtained under the  freedom of information act show that the visit was canceled by the Navy because Marine One was grounded due to bad weather. 4. Noted orange man hater, John Bolton, in his book states that the visit was canceled because Marine One was grounded by bad weather and the security and logistics of a long motorcade to the cemetery were impractical. He also states in his book that the media turned the story into one about the orange man being afraid of the rain and gleefully pointing out that other world leaders still traveled to the cemetery that day. 5. The orange man gave a one hour keynote address at another American WWI cemetery near Paris the next day, but this got no mention in the mainstream media.
Then, once this story came out in The Atlantic, coincidentally just two months before the 2020 election, and two years after the incident occurred in 2018, the Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post all ran The Atlantic's story as if it was fact. 

All this reminds me of a certain saying the orange man had...

- Dave Bad Person

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Petition declares "Do not let Jeff Bezos return to Earth" after his rocket flight.

A petition that declares "Do not let Jeff Bezos return to Earth" after his space flight next month has almost 27,000 signatures and is growing by about one signature a second. It states that "Billionaire's should not exist...on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there."
So what are these people going to do if they reach their goal of 35,000 signatures, set up a blockade in the outer atmosphere? What a bunch of ineffectual entitled loons. Yeah Bezos is evil because he created a service that people like and want to use, he employs 1.3 million people, and gives them good benefits and pays more than minimum wage.
"But I'm just as creative and driven and business savvy as Bezos, why aren't I a billionaire, why don't I get tax breaks? He's so rich he should be giving me free education and health care".
Go get a job you stupid hippies!

Monday, May 3, 2021

A message to the countries that laughed at the USA's COVID response

Well here we are on May 2nd, 2021, with 243 million doses of Covid vaccine administered in the US and 103 million people fully vaccinated, or 31% of our 332 million population. That's an amazing pace.

So how is vaccination progress coming along in those countries that laughed at us as the stupidest nation on Earth with our anti-vaxxers, surging infection rate, Trump president, and mask-denying free-dumb lovers? Well...

The pompous Brits have only managed to fully vaccinate 22% of their much smaller population of 67 million. You don't look so superior now, do you, you hopeless British idiots!

The "highly efficient" Germans have only vaccinated 7.7% of their 83 million population. If that's the power of German engineering then German engineering is SHIT, just like their unreliable shit cars!

The socialist utopias of Norway and Sweden, where everything is "free" and we should be more like them? They've only vaccinated about 7%, their tiny populations of 5.3 and 10.3 million. Maybe they need to scrape the frost off their brains and stop being so PATHETIC!

Switzerland, the headquarters of many of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies and one of the most organized countries in the world? Only 10.8% of their tiny 8.5 million population is fully vaccinated. Hopeless AND pathetic.

New Zealand, the model of how it should have been done, have only fully vaccinated 1.2% of their tiny population of 4.9 million. What's wrong Kiwis, are you STEE-OOO-PID?

Australia? They don't even have data on how many of their 22 million population have been fully vaccinated because they're a third world country, and the total number of doses administered is just 2.2 million, which indicates the number fully vaccinated is much less than 10%. Maybe if they stopped shagging the sheep all day and night, they might have time to go get a vaccine?

Ah yes, it sure is great to be living in the greatest nation on Earth and be fully vaccinated, for free, and be able to get back to normal life. I think I'll go traveling and eat out and go to pubs and enjoy life while I laugh at all those other hopeless flailing nations. 😊

- Dave Bad Person

P.S. yes, the big bad orange man didn't do such a bad job, despite all the incessant whiners saying he was just leaving us to die of Covid. Seems these other countries are leaving their people to die of Covid.


Friday, April 30, 2021

Ongoing studies into the goals and utility of academic research

I saw this article in the newspaper today and posted my thoughts about it on Facebook.  I've since deleted the post, but here is a copy...


I always love it when scientists discover things that ordinary people have known for centuries. So it turns out those pelicans you see gliding above the waves are actually saving energy by catching updrafts off the waves? Whooda thunk?!

Well now we have a mathematical model of this phenomenon. Do you know what we can do with this information? Nothing! Do you know what business or government agency will use this information? Abso-fucking-lutely none!

This information has now been published in the scholarly journal "Movement Ecology", which is so obscure and has a readership so tiny, that probably no more than 10 people in the world will read this research paper in its entirety. The researcher however, got to play around with physics equations, which is no doubt their idea of a fun time. Now they'll get kudos from their fellow researchers, and go on to live a life contributing very little to society, and be able to go to international conferences and take sabbaticals, and generally be on vacation for the rest of their life, at taxpayer expense.

Thank gawd most of the important research going on in the world doesn't happen at fucked universities and isn't conducted by stupid people with PhDs. 


An oceanographer scientist that I know saw my post and responded as follows...


Why are you so angry all the time?

This was clearly a defense mechanism, an indication that she had no intention of answering the questions I'd posed in my post, but rather, to sidetrack the discussion and make it seem that my opinion is worthless and there's something fundamentally wrong with my psyche.  So, rather than create a kerfuffle in front of a large audience online, I messaged her privately....


Why am I so angry? Because I never get an answer when I ask what the goals and utility of that kind of research are. What is its application?  After 17 years of working in academia (and not being good at the job), and another 15 years working in the research center of a major Silicon Valley company, I can see the difference in research styles. In the mid-20th century scientists were splitting the atom and going to the moon. My PhD thesis, submitted in the year 2000, was about a mathematical model of a neuron. Here I am 20 years later and  what has that achieved? Meanwhile, literally billions of people have miniature computers in their hands and a high-speed roving connection to the internet, which has enabled a whole slew of other technologies to exist (like this messenger app we were using for example).
That's ok. The things I want to say about it are best not said on Facebook and not said to you, as a matter of respect. I have a blog for that kind of stuff. My blogs get more readership than most scientific papers, and I know that because I have the numbers.

Peace, love, and stuff. 😊


To this she responded with silence at first, which is another defense mechanism commonly used by academics when confronted about the application of their work).  So I wrote to her again...


Actually, your comment "Why are you so angry all the time?" was a defense mechanism to avoid answering my questions. I've seen academics and scientists use various defense mechanisms when confronted about the goals and utility of their work. They change the subject, get defensive, give a strawman argument, compare themselves or their work to great scientists or discoveries of the past. That's ok, I get it. It's all very very important things they're doing.  Gotta keep the dream alive.

Peace, love, and stuff 😊


She finally replied....


Jesus. No, I really wanted to know why you are so angry. I didn’t read the article you posted, just saw that it had something to do with pelicans. I did see a release from Scripps that describes it and it sounds like the utility is in the area of improving flight efficiency (they specifically cited drones) and also a more general result of a better understanding of the ocean/air interface, which is important for things like weather prediction. But I know, in your opinion it’s useless if it doesn’t put a better microchip in your pocket. Anyway I have to get back to working on locating fronts for the navy (so they can use their sonar to locate and kill the bad guys) and determining how good our ocean/atmosphere resolution has to be to get it right.


To which I replied...


Oh yes, the uses that scientists dream up for their research AFTER they've done it are truly amazing. "Well, it could be applied to this, or that, or something else". But it probably never will be. They like to stretch idea of what it might be used for. I'm glad you've found a use for your work. I was beginning to think I'd get no response at all, which is another commonly used defense mechanism. This discussion is rounding out my blog nicely. After all, you're a public figure, so you won't mind if I put your words in the public domain.

P, L, 😊& S 


There was some more discussion about funding for academic research, and the state of my apparent anger. We caught up on old news, and then I gave my final reply...


I guess that's the difference between academic research and engineering research. In academic research you apply for funding and justify it with a use. There is a lot of competition for the limited amount of funding available. In engineering research you have a product people want to buy, that provides a service they want or solves a problem they want solved. You don't have to ask people for money or justify it, they are willing to give you money because they want and need your product.  The use is inherent and obvious to the product. The product can end up becoming so popular that you cant find a rake big enough to rake in the cash you get for your product, and the cash piles up in enormous mounds. πŸ˜Š


And that was that.

- Dave Bad Person

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Why sending humans to Mars is bullshit

Well here we are in early 2021 and the new Perseverance rover has sent back its first pictures from the surface of Mars. Yup, Mars is still a shithole.

For a start you can't just go to Mars whenever you want.  Mars should preferably be on the same side of its orbit as the Earth, so as to minimize the distance travelled.  Even then it takes seven months to get there, which would expose a human to the long term health effects of space radiation and zero gravity. 

By "health effects" I mean for example that astronauts who spent long periods of time (months) in space return to Earth unable to walk due to muscular atrophy caused by zero gravity, as well as numerous other health problems with their heart, eyes, and other organs. They have to be carried out of the capsule when they return to Earth and sent off in a wheelchair for rehabilitation. You typically don't see that on the news, because space flight is supposed to be glamorous and courageous, like it is in Star Trek or Star Wars.

You would also need to take all your supplies, food, water, and air for your seven month journey. No one has embarked on such a long journey since probably the days of sailing ships, and even those ships were able to resupply some materials as they sailed around the world.  

Then when you get to Mars the atmosphere is only about 1% as dense as Earth's. There's only 38% gravity and we don't even know what the health effects of that are. There is only 43% as much sunlight as Earth and even noon would look like dusk, and the average temperature is an incredibly cold -80°F (-60°C). Mars has no magnetic field and little atmosphere, so radiation from space bombards the surface at about 12 times the rate on Earth.

Then you have to assume any human explorer would need to make the return journey.

All the technologies that need to be developed and tested for Mars MUST first be developed and tested on the Moon. Since we don't have a base on the Moon yet, then we're not about to have any humans visiting Mars. Possibly lava tubes could be a good place to start building an outpost. They might provide some ready-made radiation shielding and therefore lessen the construction payload.

So as you can see, the main problem with sending humans to Mars isn't getting there. We've already sent car-sized object to Mars several times.  The problem is the health effects of long term space travel, and the extremely harsh conditions on Mars.

Here are Elon Musk's plans for Mars, which are obviously just marketing hype.

Don't believe any hype you hear, we're not sending humans to Mars in the foreseeable future.

- Dave Bad Person

Another surge in immigration but no hysterical shrieking

Another surge of immigration from Central America has seen 78,000 immigrants turned back from our southern border in January and another 100,000 in February. The immigrant surge from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala continues, but there doesn't seem to be such intense media coverage of it this time. Among these immigrants are thousands of unaccompanied children who have to be detained, yet no one is shrieking hysterically that we're "tearing children from their families" or that we have "child prisons". Mind you, many of these "child prisons" are the same detention facilities used during the Obama era.
Most of these immigrants come from countries that the US tried to give functioning industries to back in the mid-20th century: fruit farming, a banking system, and all the machinery of capitalism. But they didn't like that so they had socialist revolutions, which led to them becoming the crime- and gang-ridden shitholes they are today, which is why people are leaving these countries in droves. Oddly enough though, we don't seem to get any Nicaraguans arriving at our border. They also had a socialist revolution but somehow the Sandanistas managed to rout the corruption and gang activity. Now Nicaragua is starting to become a tourist destination. We also don't see Costa Ricans arriving at our border because it's now an idyllic tourist destination with industries and investment. It's often described as the happiest country in the world, and they don't even have a military or defence force.
There's a lesson in all this somewhere, but I can't quite figure it out. Oh well. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Nature and Purpose of Political Conspiracy Theories

The excerpts in this blog post are quoted from the following web page:

Political conspiracy theories are usually the most intricate.  They arise most often when the "official version” of events seems inadequate, flawed, or incomplete, and these situations present an opportunity for all sorts of bizarre and facile "explanations"

However, the entire purpose of most political conspiracy theories is NOT to carefully present evidence and then use reason and logic to arrive at sound, verifiable conclusions.  Instead, most political conspiracy theories are primarily an intellectual device by which individuals and organizations identify and demonize their perceived enemies whom they propose to vanquish.

The substantive content of a political conspiracy theory is often completely irrelevant to the underlying purpose of the theory and, in any event, there is no possible way to refute or disprove most such theories to the satisfaction of their authors or adherents because most political conspiracy theories are constructed to be self-sealing so that contradictory data can be instantly dismissed, ignored, or de-valued.  The reason is because the theory functions as a problem-solving device but the actual “problem” has virtually nothing to do with the details regarding people and events which are part of the conspiratorial narrative.

The actual “problem” which political conspiracy theories seek to address is explaining one’s sense of impotence, i.e. providing plausible reasons for why one’s values, ideas, policy preferences, and political candidates seem to be repeatedly ignored, disparaged, violated, or defeated, particularly over long periods of time.   Consequently, the conspiracy theory expresses the rage felt when a person perceives himself or his group as persistent “losers” in all matters of importance.

Therefore, the conspiracy theory functions as a “rolodex” of people and organizations who should not be permitted to have a place at the table, because “they” despoil our country, “they” defile its true values, and “they” plan to rob us of our heritage and “they” seek to make impotence a permanent feature of our lives.

That’s the reason why a political conspiracy theory can never be refuted, because it does not rely upon the individual facts, assertions, or conclusions which make up the literal text of the theory.  Instead, it is a primal scream against perceived villains whom are thought to have ruined our society or whom are working toward destroying our individual sovereignty.

Conspiracy theories are usually authored by persistent losers in public policy debates to account for why those persons are frustrated and seemingly impotent to affect public policy decisions and elections over long periods of time.

Anger and frustration is a normal human response to feelings of endless impotence.  Conspiracy theories "solve" the underlying problem by explaining WHY one perceives oneself as powerless, disrespected, unappreciated, and ignored.  It’s really very simple, malevolent powerful beings, working in secret, are responsible.

Conspiracy authors almost never concede even the hypothetical possibility that their paradigm might be flawed in some fundamental respect.  Furthermore, conspiracy authors/researchers don't simply allege that a critic or skeptic is mistaken in their viewpoint.  Instead, they almost always assert that critics or skeptics facilitate the success of evil cabals who consciously are working to destroy our way of life. 

In short, conspiracy believers proclaim that their interpretation is not just intellectually superior to other interpretations, but theirs is the ONLY interpretation possible and any disagreements are the result of morally and intellectually defective beings, who are, perhaps, even agents of the conspiracy! 

Similarly, conspiracy believers usually declare that every issue or controversy is susceptible to only one correct interpretation and, furthermore, our public policy options are limited to only one correct position, which “coincidentally” always conforms to the conspiracy believer’s personal political preferences.

Typically, conspiracy adherents will entertain questions and comments about their theory only so long as their fundamental premises and conclusions are not challenged.  Rigorous critiques are instantly perceived as hostile attacks by hopelessly naΓ―ve, ignorant, or “brainwashed” individuals, or perhaps, “smears” initiated by “agents” of the conspiracy who are seeking to “divert” attention away from themselves and thus "waste" time and resources in “pointless” intellectual debates or “disinformation” campaigns. 

Furthermore, conspiracy believers are pre-disposed to believing the worst possible motives regarding their adversaries.  Consequently, conspiracy proponents often arrive at conclusions without asking their perceived adversaries a single question.

Conspiracy advocates often assert that their fellow countrymen cannot be relied upon to understand events and make correct decisions. Why not? Because they believe that vast numbers of their countrymen have been “brainwashed” and “cannot think for themselves”.  In their scheme of things, only conspiracy believers are able to recognize and escape from the clever mind-tricks and ulterior motives of their adversaries.

Further reading:

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Pachypodium. The Complete Guide To Cultivation

This searchable text version was produced from the document found at the following link:

You can also view, print, and download a Word version of this article here:


The Complete Guide

To Cultivation

Learn all the basics for success in growing these valuable plants



l. Form and Function

A little theory but not too much

We construct a cultural profile based on form and behavior

II. Methodology

Now down to culture basics

No laundry list of Do’s and Don’ts but a highly integrated approach

Key issues specific to Pachypodiums are examined in detail.

We examine all factors under our control and how to put them together in a way that’s right for your growing conditions


Learn How To Grow Quality Plants Like These Large Perfect Specimens

Pachypodium rosulatum - interesting twin stem plant. 5 years old grown from seed


Pachypodium saundersii compactum - the beautiful Zimbabwe form. 6 years from seed.


Pachypodiums are some of the most popular in-demand plants in horticulture today but unfortunately very little cultural information exists to help the large number of attempting to grow them. The special appeal of these plants lies in their exotic form and very beautiful flowers both of which cannot be realized without a sound understanding of their culture.


You're On Your Own

Most of the truly interesting plants usually present us with a challenge on how to care for them This is part of what makes them rare and interesting. Pachypodiums certainly fall in this category and require a certain degree of personal involvement a little beyond the “it’s putting out leaves so I guess I should water it" level.

This guide is presented in the spirit of developing a consciousness or greater awareness of what you can learn from your plants just by trying out sound cultural practices along with your own ideas and observing the results. All of us possess, to some degree, the ability to "pick up" on these cultural ideas or we wouldn't be attracted to these strange plants in the first place. The solutions to our problems are usually there right in front of us. All that's left is to train ourselves to see them.

Your efforts will be rewarded. With a little experience, the end result will be a degree of independence in solving your own problems. If you want to grow very good plants, you actually have no choice. Your plants are totally dependent on you for their care and only you can make the most of them. You are in every sense on your own.


l. Form and Function

The Two Schools

Culture studies can usually be divided into two groups. One school of thought which you still see quite often is that plants should be grown in a manner that mimics their habitat conditions. This is a holdover from the early days of the 50s and 60s. The other more contemporary school favors maximizing their potential in the man-made artificial environments we have set up for them. This will be our method.

What exactly do we mean by maximizing their potential? Above all else, it means growing plants that look natural. No plant grown under artificial conditions will ever look exactly like those found in the wild but in most cases we can come very close. By the time you finish this guide, you will be to recognize a natural looking plant.

All plants possess a genetic make-up which makes them favor conditions similar to those of their native habitat but when we are growing them under artificial conditions, all the rules change. It is totally impossible to duplicate habitat conditions but we do incorporate these habitat preferences into our cultural methods, but only as one element and not the big picture.

Life Cycle

Good culture depends on your understanding of the different phases your plants undergo during the course of a year. When to water, feed, repot. prune, and rest all relate to an understanding of the basic life cycle of Pachypodiums. It is actually quite simple follows: Reproduction - Growth - Rest.

Figure 1. Healthy Pachypodium roots

Here in the northern hemisphere, flowering and hence reproduction for most species begins in late February and merges with the growth cycle in May. It can take from 4 to 10 weeks for flowers to fully develop on their long peduncles and a slow process, Most are in full flower in April and May with a few taking until June. The rest period is from November - January when they will shed most or all of their leaves as they sleep for three months or longer.

Between reproduction and rest we of course have growth. Even though all species are indigenous to the African mainland and Madagascar, which is in the southern hemisphere where spring normally begins in September, they readily adapt to our northern biological clock and shift 180 degrees. The only exception is the rare P. namaquanum which does not have one set growing period in cultivation. Instead it will bust into growth usually three times per year roughly occurring in June. October, and January depending on your conditions. Many succulents exhibit this "confused" state and you simply must play along.

Most cultivation naturally must take place during the growth period but what is most critical is not stopping altogether during the rest period.

This is the number one reason for failure.

Certainly at this point you have a good idea that there is considerably more to cultivation than just watering. Pachypodiums must absolutely receive some moisture when dormant but by not stopping cultivating we mean you can't just forget about them until spring. All of your observations and attention to keeping conditions just right must also continue through the winter months. For example: moisture, temperature, and light levels must be monitored and you need to be constantly on the lookout for root loss, insects and a fungus that causes tip dieback. These are just a few.

A Starting Point

After you have grown many different types of plants, you easily see cultural patterns or traits begin to emerge. Often you can just look at a new plant and have some idea of how it should be treated. This is exactly what we mean by developing a greater sense of awareness about your plants. It's amazing what you can learn just from observation and it pays off with superb, not average plants.

In the natural world form usually follows function, so as a cultural starting point, let's make a few simple observations of the inner structure and outer form of a typical Pachypodium. We begin with the way water and nutrients move through the plant.

Pachypodiums have huge fibrous feeder roots (see Fig. 1) that mop up moisture very rapidly. In habitat. rains are far and few between so they must act quickly. By their very size you can see they mean business. Must succulents have much smaller, hair-like roots.

Most species have large leaves relative to body size and therefore transpiration is fast and plants rapidly make food. This is an obvious sign that they require generous amounts of moisture and nutrients compared to must succulents.

The caudex or stem is composed of a soft pith structure for water storage with the vascular tissue lying close to the epidermis as two narrow concentric rings This enables plants to withstand periods of less than ideal moisture. Next time a plant is lost, make a cross section and you can see these features.

The epidermis or outer skin bright and shiny. This highly reflective covering directs the harsh sun away from the body thereby conserving moisture.

So what does all this tell us? If we sum it up, we must conclude that Pachypodiums are relatively fast growers and in general are very opportunistic plants In habitat. The growing season is short so they must make the most of it. In cultivation where conditions are so much more generous they really move and this means that they will make too much of a good thing if given the chance. By comparison, plants in the wild are held in check by the ever present force of the elements and have that "natural" compact look so desired.

So our cultural profile can now be fairly well defined. Pachypodiums can be a little too robust in cultivation. We can't just let them go their own way so they must be held in check somewhat. We know that they must have a definite winter rest and be carefully monitored during this period. By holding them back a little we certainly don't mean starving them or making them weak. On the contrary, this will produce the exact opposite result which is a more compact natural looking plant. Many growing techniques are available to us which will work with this approach.


II. Methodology

The big three: Light. Temperature, and Water form the basis for most discussions on cultivation. All aspects of growing usually relate in some fashion to one of these key elements.

What is normally presented however is a big list of do's and don'ts which reduces cultivation to a mechanical process with little regard for the relationship between these primary elements. If you want to be a first rate grower, you must know why you are doing something. Merely following a prescribed list will take you nowhere. For example, no one can possibly tell you how often to water. You must determine this yourself.

Our approach will therefore be that the three elements Light. Temperature, and Water define your growing. They cannot be considered separate entitles but are interdependent parts of your cultural formula. Change any one and the others must also change.

Light Requirements

All species of Pachypodium require strong, hard light. This means at least 3-4 hours of direct light each day. Direct light is defined as an unobstructed southern exposure. It does not mean so many hours of sunshine, but only that the exposure not be blocked by trees. house eaves, or anything that will create shade. Nothing should come the sun and your plants except the window or greenhouse glazing if that.

Pachypodiums grown in low light hardly resemble their true form and are indeed a sad sight with their etiolated (stretched out) stems and huge floppy leaves. Plants grown under such conditions become very weak over time and generally fail. The classic symptom that plants are not receiving sufficient light that the new leaves will turn black.

Properly grown specimens will always have what is termed a small internode distance. This is the distance between the stipular spines. Figure 2 illustrates this point with two plants of the same species. Notice the distance between the spines is much greater for the poorly grown specimen on the left while the other is nice and compact.


Maximum temperatures are usually not a concern as all species will tolerate the very hot and dry conditions of habitat. Plants grown in greenhouses without proper ventilation (total inside air replaced once per minute) can easily be damaged. The first sign of this is the clear sap weeping from the growing apex. This is permanent damage and branching occurs around such an injury. Quite often, plants grown in excessively hot conditions will just go dormant.

In cultivation our biggest concern is the minimum temperature which coincides for duration with the rest period. Due to the general robust nature of Pachypodiums with some moisture required during dormancy, a minimum of13°C (55°F) should be maintained while 16°C (60°F) is preferable. Some will tolerate lower levels but most will not. The Highland reference collection of seed stock Pachypodiums, consisting of hundreds of plants including all known species is kept at 18C (65°F).


Figure 2. Internode distance for two plants the same age of horombense.



Pachypodiums are heavy feeders requiring generous amounts of water. This is the main obstacle for growers new to the genus to overcome. It's a natural tendency to be overly conservative with watering especially with the rarer more costly species but the idea should be not how much but when to water. As a good starting point use this simple rule: do not let containers become dust dry at any time. It works. Water, wait until it uses what you gave it, then water again.

How can you tell if a plant has used what you have given it? Pick it up. If the pot feels light, water it. If you want to call yourself a real plant person learn to do this. Experienced growers can tell if a plant needs water just by looking. You won't catch them lugging pots around! Again it's that special sense of awareness that makes the difference.

Don't think of watering as an exact science where every drop must be measured. It’s just not that critical. Make sure your plants are well watered and forget it. More Pachypodiums are killed by underwatering than everything else combined.

Finally, do not push anything into the container to test the moisture level. This means your finger or those dreaded moisture meter probes. Succulents have delicate, fragile roots and you will only damage them. Pachypodiums are especially sensitive to this treatment and broken roots can rapidly lead to rotted plants from this bad habit.

The Dormancy Dilemma

The most critical and least understood time in caring for Pachypodiums is the dormancy or rest period. Most losses occur during this time because plants are kept too dry and not monitored. It's not that they are difficult and in fact are no more demanding than most caudiciforms. Due to their very robust nature and general character of quickly responding to culture, these plants will simply not survive long periods, i.e. months. with no moisture. Yes some will make it but many will not.

Dormancy is a fact of life. Plants gradually move into a rest period in response to dropping light and temperature levels. You can 't force them to do anything by applying or withholding water. You simply must give them what they require.

Pachypodiums just don't sit there like rocks while dormant. You can’t see much happening on the outside but on the inside transpiration is still going on at reduced levels, and this moisture must be replaced. They need feeder roots to take up this moisture so naturally plants cannot be kept so dry that these roots are lost. This can easily happen and the consequences will not become apparent until spring when growth commences and plants begin to fail. Plants are failing not because of what you are doing in April but because of what you did over the winter months.

So how often should you water during dormancy? It largely depends on humidity levels, i.e. how fast plants dry out If you live where it's cool during the winter. Your house or greenhouse will be dry so one or two waterings per week may be required. If you live in a mild climate with little heating equipment operating, possibly once every other week will work. Just water, give them a good dry spell to the point where the pots feel light. then water again, but do not keep dust dry!

The relationship between light, temperature, and water should now be coming into focus. Each certainly is a topic by itself but often it is extremely helpful to think of them collectively. Solutions to problems can usually be found in the cause-effect type relations that exist.

As an example consider the winter situation for growers with no greenhouse. When you move your plants inside in autumn. you are significantly altering your environment. If you think of this in terms of the three key elements the most obvious change is a big decrease in available light It thus becomes crucial to adjust temperature and water accordingly keeping growth to a minimum and thereby avoiding ruinous etiolation. Conversely plants must be watered enough to maintain roots so you can see it becomes a delicate balancing act of providing the three essential elements in the correct amount.

Root loss

With any sizable collection you will have a few Pachypodiums each year that lose their roots and in this condition their survival depends on careful and quick treatment. Signs to look for are a shriveled caudex. small irregular leaves. Pots that stay wet, and algae on soil.

Figure 3. The proper removal of roots should be back to healthy white tissue.

First, ascertain that the roots are in fact dead. Do not unpot to check this. Disturbing live roots one of the worst things you can do. Water well and wait 7-10 days. If the caudex fills back out even a small degree, leave the plant alone and monitor it carefully until it recovers. It is very easy to make the wrong diagnosis that a Pachypodium is rotted because the caudex has become soft, only to find after removing all the soil that the roots are in perfect shape and all it needed was a good watering. This is especially true in very hot weather when plants can desiccate in a hours. Usually it takes much longer for a plant to fill back out than to shrink.

If the plant fails to respond to your initial watering, unpot and remove all mix. The dead roots will usually fall away with mix but trim them back to clean white tissue and apply a rooting hormone. Fig 3 illustrates the procedure where the dead feeder roots have been removed and the primary roots trimmed back.

Finally, let things dry for a few days to heal the root tips then pot in straight perlite or pumice. Place in bright but not direct light and keep evenly moist When new growth evident. unpot- shake off excess perlite or pumice and pot in your regular mix It works just about every time. Plants can even stay in rerooting pots until the next season if it becomes too late in the year to disturb the delicate new roots. Timing is critical and must always be considered.

Figure 4. Ratio Rule applied to two plants the exact same age. L-2.5" pot. R-4" pot

Technique: The Ratio Rule

Now that we have the basics down we return to the idea of restraint developed in our cultural profile and explore techniques you can use to keep your plants in check. One of the most effective is the standard horticultural principle called the Ratio Rule. It states simply that for any plant there exists an ideal ratio between its roots, stem (caudex}, and leaves. This is right from Hort 101.

This principle can be applied to Pachypodiums by restricting root space. In habitat they grow in cracks and chinks between rocks and this is what gives them their nice globular character. In cultivation most new growers overpot in the mistaken belief that you must give your plants plenty of root space if you want them to grow well. In fact it has the opposite effect as plants slow to a crawl. If roots are grown out of proportion to the rest of the plant, the growth energy will be channeled to the branches and leaves and not the caudex ie. the ratio of roots to stem and leaves is not correct. Plants with a large crown of branches and leaves but without much of a caudex are usually in a container much too large in relation to plant size.

Figure 4 illustrates this principle applied to a pair of densiflorum. The nice fat one on the left is in the correct size container while the one on the right is over potted. When selecting a container choose one in which the plant will just fit and move up in increments of one half inch. This technique can be used with many types of plants and it works! Bonsai enthusiasts use it extensively to develop big fat trunks.

Growing Medium

The key factor for any good Pachypodium mix is light weight. The large roots can simply push themselves through a light and airy mix easier than a heavy one. A degree of moisture retention is also required as in any quality medium.

The new soilless mixes that have been developed for commercial growers the past few years are excellent. These come in a variety of formulations with the composted bark based being the best. Few growers today use soil based medium as the results realized with soilless mixes are so outstanding. You can adjust the porosity of any soilless product with perlite for an excellent Pachypodium growing medium. Superior results are obtained with perlite over pumice. Avoid using any mix containing sand, gravel, or any aggregates. Sand based mixes are heavy, compact, and suffocate roots.

A constructive way to think about this subject is that any quality mix will provide a margin of error in watering. Your plants should be able to withstand short periods of over and under watering such as outside during summer rains. If you experience frequent plant losses, you may want to consider another mix no matter how good you think your current one is. Go slowly and experiment.

A constant low dosage feed strategy is best. Use a commercial brand of fertilizer with trace elements, such as Peters, at one-quarter strength or 50 ppm nitrogen every time you water. Avoid hobby or gimmick brand products. Your feeding program should commence in March and end in October.


Fortunately most insect pests are not attracted to Pachypodiums. Most collections will see the odd breakout of mealybug but difficult pests such as mites and whiteflies leave them alone. If the need arises for chemical controls. absolutely do not use petroleum based products. These are labeled "liquid" this or that such Malathion and are designated emulsifiable concentrate, "EC", or just “E”. Systemics such as Cygon also fall in this group and are highly toxic to you and your plants. EC's will severely burn succulents so avoid them at all costs and use wettable powders and water based (aqua flow} products. It's up to you to do your homework on the insect you are trying to control and the right chemical to use for your plants.

The Big Picture

It is hoped that if you obtain one piece of practical advice from this guide it is that quality plants are the result of quality cultivation. Just about anyone can get Pachypodiums to grow even in the worst conditions. Cultivation can indeed be negative. It's the quality of that growth that is the whole point and true measure of your efforts.

Consider this guide no more than a starting point. Use the ideas presented here along with your own to experiment and observe. You are on your own.