Economic Botany

, Volume 58, Supplement 1, pp S88–S100

Protection from uv radiation in the economic crop, Opuntia SPP.


  • Charles S.  Cockell
    • Columbia University Biosphere 2 Centre
  • Joe Berry
    • Department of Plant BiologyStanford University
  • Adrian Southern
    • Columbia University Biosphere 2 Centre
  • Alesha Herrera
    • Rice University
  • Charles Yackulic
    • Columbia University Biosphere 2 Centre

DOI: 10.1663/0013-0001(2004)58[S88:PFURIT]2.0.CO;2

Cite this article as:
Cockell, C.S., Berry, J., Southern, A. et al. Econ Bot (2004) 58: S88. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2004)58[S88:PFURIT]2.0.CO;2


Cacti of the genus puntia are an economically important crop. Understanding the mechanisms they possess to protect against UV radiation is important for assessing their possible response to climatic change. Measurements of the concentrations of UV-screening compounds and epidermal transmittance for two species of platyopuntia, Opuntia engelmannii Salm-Dyck. and O. phaeacantha Engelm. during 1998 and 1999 were used to investigate the UV-protection afforded by the cactus epidermis. A UV-radiative transfer model was used to investigate the interception of UV radiation on differently oriented surfaces. We show that vertical morphology itself confers significant protection against UV radiation compared to a horizontal surface. Concentrations of UV-screening flavonoids were found to vary depending on the UV exposure of different surfaces. West-facing surfaces had lower concentrations than east-facing surfaces, although theoretically they should be identical. This might be explained by the higher mean temperatures on west-facing surfaces. Although UV-absorbing soluble flavonoids in the epidermis block both UV-B and UV-A, the structure of the epidermis alone may be sufficient to remove up to 94% of the UV-B portion of the spectrum. These data yield insights into possible mechanisms of recent declines in cacti populations.

Key Words

PlantsUV radiationdesertcactiflavonoids
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© The New York Botanical Garden 2004