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Featured plant: Cephalocereus senilis

Cephalocereus senilis

Cephalocereus senilis

On take-your-child-to-work day April 28, one of the many primary-schoolers visiting the Conservatory was heard to exclaim, “Look! It’s a Bernie Sanders cactus!”

Very close. Its common name is actually Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) because its shaggy coat of long, white hairs suggests an old man’s unkempt mane.

The language lesson: The genus name Cephalocereus is derived from the Greek kephale (head) and the Latin cereus (wax taper, candle). The species name senilis is Latin for old man.

The botany lesson: The hairs are modified spines that protect the plant from cold temperatures and sun. But be careful: They also hide sharp yellow spines underneath.

The geography lesson: Though common as a houseplant, the cactus is threatened in its native range eastern Mexico where it can grow up to 50 feet tall.

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