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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - January 09, 2009

From: Toronto, ON
Region: Canada
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant with no leaves, flexible and stores water
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Do you now a plant that has no leaves but stores a lot of water and is very flexible? Maybe a type of vine? Thank you!

ANSWER:

You don't say whether you have, or saw, such a plant and are trying to identify it; or, perhaps you want to grow such a plant; or, you are just curious if such a plant exists.  Whatever the reason for your question, here is what I can tell you about plants, both native and non-native to North America, that fit at least part of your description:

The first plants that come to mind that store a lot of water and have no leaves are the cacti (for example., Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro) or Opuntia sp.), but I certainly wouldn't call them particularly flexible.  There are a couple of Opuntias that grow in Ontario, Opuntia humifusa (devil's-tongue) and Opuntia fragilis (brittle pricklypear). Some other cacti that store water are species in the genera Selenicereus and Hylocereus from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and tropical South America.  Some of these are vine-like (for example, S. urbanianus and H. undatus) and somewhat more flexible than the cacti named above.

The Cuscuta (Dodder) are parasitic vines that have very reduced leaves that certainly store some water in their stems, but the stems are relatively thin so there won't be much water stored there.  There are several species of Cuscuta that occur in Ontario, some native and some not.

Succulents store water in their stems and leaves and there are succulent vines that lack leaves in the Ceropegias, a genus in the Family Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family) that are found mainly in tropical Africa, India, the Middle East and Asia.  Many of the species of the genus are vines and several lack leaves (for example, C. devecchii from Somalia, C. arabica from Saudi Arabia and  C. ampliata from South Africa).

If you have such a plant or a photo of it, you can submit your photo to us and we will do our best to identify it.  Please visit the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants' Plant Identification page to read instructions on submitted photos for identification.


Carnegiea gigantea

Opuntia humifusa

Cuscuta polygonorum

 

 

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