26 August 2021

Cactus. Fasciation. White-winged dove. And Stevie Nicks.

First I encountered this photo of an absolutely awesome cactus (at L'oeil ouvert, via).  The caption was in French, so I had to Google Translate it to find this info about the plant:
The French naturalist and historian Leon Diguet realized six scientific expeditions in Mexico between 1893 and 1913... With a few prints in the world, this picture offers a spectacular example of a species of cacti: the Giant Cardon, about 8 meters high and about 10 tons.
I still wondered if it could be a manipulated image, because these are famously-slow-growing plants - it's said to take up to 75 years to develop a single side arm.  Some take on unusual shapes; here is a cristate ("crested") crown -

- a phenomenon that occurs secondary to "fasciation":
... a condition of plant growth in which the apical meristem, normally concentrated around a single point, producing approximately cylindrical tissue, becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested, or elaborately contorted tissue. The phenomenon may occur in the stem, root, fruit, or flower head.
Wikipedia illustrated the phenomenon with a photo of a wildflower:

- and I suddenly realized that I had seen the same type of anomaly two summers ago while hiking, but had no idea what was going on -

(I had assumed it was some kind of mutation, and made plans to return to the site later in the fall to collect seeds, but didn't have a chance to go).

But back to the cactus.  I remembered from old nature films that the major pollinators are bats:
There are a number of floral characteristics geared toward bat pollination: nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above the ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. One additional evidence is that the amino acids in the pollen appear to help sustain lactation in bats...
- but one link also listed daytime pollinators as bees and... white-winged doves.  And, of course, I couldn't hear that without thinking of Stevie Nicks' Edge of Seventeen.  Until this moment I had always assumed that the "white-winged dove" in her lyrics was an imaginary creature (her lyrics sometimes tend to be rather mystical and obscure):
The clouds... never expect it... when it rains.
But the sea changes colours...
But the sea... does not change.

And so... with the slow... graceful flow... of age
I went forth... with an age old... desire... to please
On the edge of... seventeen

Just like the white-winged dove... sings a song...
Sounds like she's singing...
Ooo baby... ooo... said ooo
Re the genesis of this song, she was in Australia when she heard the news that John Lennon died.  She returned to Phoenix, where she was familiar with the white-winged dove.  While there she was present when her uncle John died at night, which prompted this part of the lyrics -
In a flood of tears
That no one really ever heard fall,
Oh I went searchin' for an answer...
Up the stairs... and down the hall
I did not find an answer... but I did hear the call
Of a nightbird... singing...
Come away... come now...
"The white-winged dove in the song is a spirit that is leaving a body, and I felt a great loss at how both Johns were taken..." She explains it all in this VH1 Storytellers segment, which is the best way to close this blog for the night.  The resolution isn't good for fullscreen, but you can still crank up the audio...  Enjoy.

You learn something every day.

Addendum:  For a contemporary photo of an immense cactus, see the link posted by HeavenlyJane in the comments.

Reposted from 2011 because I ran across those flowers at a new location and had to look up "fasciation" again.

Reposted from 2017 because the BBC has just posted a longread about the history and legacy of this song.
"... more than any other Stevie Nicks solo moment, Edge of Seventeen has entranced subsequent generations and helped to define the singer's standing as a rock icon: not just as member of Fleetwood Mac, but as an artist in her own right. It's a song that operates on several levels – at once an instant hit of rock drama and a heady meditation on death – and seems to yield something new every time you play it. Its distinctive 16th-note guitar riff – played by Waddy Wachtel, a legendary session musician who also worked with Cher and The Rolling Stones – remains electrifying every time you hear it...

When Tom Petty's wife Jane told Nicks that she and her husband met "at the age of 17", Nicks misheard her Southern accent and thought she'd said "at the edge of 17". In that instant, she realised that she had a brilliant song title."

Related: Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac - Landslide.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. Our Stevie tribute band is called White Winged Dove, and I appreciate your telling the story of her song, "Edge Of Seventeen".

    Brightest Blessings!


  2. Thanks for once again finding such interesting, diverse items for us all to enjoy. I always look forward to seeing what you've found and are sharing with the world.

    Your site is one of only a few I check daily. It never fails to give me something to think about and it usually inspires me to explore more on the web.

    I'd also like to thank all the commenters who add to the blog. It's also one of the things that make this site a keeper. Comments are thoughtful, respectful and usually add a new dimension to what you've posted.

    Now I'm off to learn more about saguaro cacti.

  3. Ditto what Cathy said....

  4. I live among the saguaros and I just stared at that photograph in amazement.

    How can that cactus be so huge? How old was it?

    Something I learned about saguaros when I moved to the SW is that purple martins nest in them. It's too hot for martin houses- but the thick walls of the saguaro help to keep out the intense heat of summer. Seems that it's only one pair to a cactus and they do lay eggs later than their relatives back east- to coincide with monsoon season and more available insects, I suppose.

    Thanks for all the wondrous things you post!

  5. Giant Cardon != Saguaro. That is all.

  6. I have been popping in on your blog for a couple of weeks now. It is always interesting and often enlightening and though provoking. Stevie Nicks has finally inspired me to tell you that I appreciate it. Thank you!

  7. Glad you're enjoying the blog. If you have lots of time to spare, there are about 300 pages to scroll back through. Some of the back pages have REALLY interesting stuff..

    Or just pick a topic in the right sidebar in the "categories" list and go from there. It's a little more cohesive than the random mix you get when going back page by page.

  8. I was so intrigued by that Giant Cordon that I had to find out if it still exists. I found this newer image that might be the same individual at a different angle. My guess is that this is a smaller plant and that the one in the vintage photo is no more.


  9. Excellent find, Heavenly Jane! I'm also pleased to see that there seems to have been at least a modicum of effort made to protect the cactua

  10. The much-branched cactus is not a saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), but I believe it to be a spectacular specimen of Cardon Espinoso, also called candelario (Pachycereus weberi) These cacti are known to branch profusely like this, but this one is extreme even for that species.

    Anon, cardons are not saguaros. they are two different kinds of large columnar cacti.

    1. Thanks, R.J. I've amended the post title and deleted "Saguaro" in the text.

    2. Anytime. I don't always know everything about cacti, but I'll give info which I believe to be correct when I can.

    3. BTW, I have a miniature cereus cactus, called Pygmaeocereus bylesianus. It's a dwarf cereus from Peru. (I don't have a common name for it.) It has produced white night-blooming flowers with a heavenly fragrance, from a cactus stem no bigger than one's thumb, and up to six inches tall. It is just like a miniature Organ-Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi).

    4. addendum 9 years later. Found this today (no source) -

      Cardón, also called Mexican giant cacti, are one of the largest cactuses on earth. A symbiotic relationship with bacterial and fungal colonies on the roots of Cardón allow growth on bare rock even where no soil is available at all.

  11. Wow, I learned a couple of new things from this post today (though I must say that about 2/3 of the way through I had to scroll back to the top to make sure it wasn't a guest post by Grampa Simpson).

    Loved the digressions. We're you wearing an onion on your belt when you wrote this?

  12. Jane's link seems to be broken, at least for me. Any other idea on where to find it? Also, the cactus trade seems to have finally died out, like other ill-advised decorating and fashion themes. Hopefully they will be left to grow like crazy for a long time now.

  13. I'm curious about connections between fasciation and rosecoming, as the deformities or growths on mushrooms are called. Google Images "rosecoming mushrooms."
    Thank you for all the wisdom you share, Stan.

  14. Fasciation occurs heritably in tomato varieties.
    Globe or plum tomatoes have a simple flower, but 'beefsteak' varieties have fasciated flowers, resulting in a widened fruit

  15. Driving through the interior of Oaxaca state, one sees many giant cacti. The one pictured here is splendid!

    The first WHITE-WINGED DOVE that I know of, an antiwar song, was written and recorded (on the Elektra label) by Mark Spoelstra ca. 1965.


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