Self-Repair in Cacti Branches: Comparative Analyses of Their Morphology, Anatomy, and Biomechanics

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Jun 29;21(13):4630. doi: 10.3390/ijms21134630.


Damage-repair is particularly important for the maintenance of the water-storing abilities of succulent plants such as cacti. Comparative morphological, anatomical, and biomechanical analyses of self-repair were performed on artificially wounded branches of Opuntia ficus-indica and Cylindropuntia bigelovii. Macroscopic observations, contrast staining, and lignin-proof staining were used to investigate morphological and anatomical responses after wounding at various time intervals. Two-point bending tests were repeatedly performed on the same branches under unwounded, freshly wounded, and healed conditions by using customized 3D-printed clamping jaws. Morphologically, both species showed a rolling-in of the wound edges, but no mucilage discharge. Anatomically, ligno-suberized peridermal layers developed that covered the wound region, and new parenchyma cells formed, especially in O. ficus-indica. In all samples, the wounding effect directly after damage caused a decrease between 18% and 37% in all the tested mechanical parameters, whereas a positive healing effect after 21 days was only found for C. bigelovii. Based on our data, we hypothesize a high selection pressure on the restoration of structural integrity in the wound area, with a focus on the development of efficient water-retaining mechanisms, whereas the concept of "sufficient is good enough" seems to apply for the restoration of the mechanical properties.

Keywords: 3D printing; Cylindropuntia bigelovii; Opuntia ficus-indica; Opuntioideae; bending test; damage management; healing effect; self‑healing; wounding effect.