Blossfeldia, the smallest of all cacti, occurs fairly widely in Argentina and Bolivia. It has long interested researchers, for it has both morphological and ecological features found in few other cacti. Blossfeldia grows in rock crevices, usually attaining a size of about 12 mm (0.5 in) wide. The tiny white flowers open during the day during summer and apparently are capable of self-pollination. The hairy, arillate seeds, which are unique within the family, are clearly adapted for dispersal by ants (Barthlott and Porembski 1996). Anatomical investigations show that this crassulacean acid metabolic cactus virtually lacks stomata, their being restricted to the areolar pits. Blossfeldia probably has the lowest number of stomata per unit of surface area of any photosynthesizing plant. Surprisingly, Blossfeldia has no thickened cuticle (thickened outer cell wall) in either the epidermis or hypodermis, features possessed by most other cacti to combat desiccation. The habitat of Blossfeldia is severe and plants are subjected to extreme desiccation; they appear to be poikilohydric, meaning that they can endure severe drying out, like many mosses and lichens (Barthlott and Porembski 1996).
Blossfeldia (type, B. liliputana) was discovered in 1936 by Harry Blossfeld and Oreste Marsoner while they explored in northern Argentina. Erich Werdermann described the genus in 1937, honoring Blossfeld. Werdermann was told that the plants were quite rare but subsequent studies have shown it to be fairly common and widespread (Leuenberger and Eggli 1998); the plants are well camouflaged in rock fissures. Several species have been described but most botanists agree that there is but one species.
Blossfeldia Werdermann 1937
Subfamily Cactoideae, tribe Notocacteae.
Blossfeldia liliputana Werdermann 1937 Parodia liliputana (Werdermann) N. P. Taylor 1987 Blossfeldia campaniflora Backeberg 1959, not validly published Blossfeldia fechseri Backeberg 1962, not validly published Blossfeldia atroviridis F. Ritter 1965, B. liliputana var. atroviridis
(F. Ritter) Krainz 1975 Blossfeldia pedicellata F. Ritter 1965 Blossfeldia minima F. Ritter 1980
Plants very small, buttonlike, gray-green, solitary or many-stemmed, without ribs or tubercles, to 12 mm (0.5 in) in diameter, able to withstand severe drying out. Spines absent. Flowers borne near the stem tips, 6-15 mm (0.2-0.6 in) long, 5-7 mm (0.2-0.3 in) in diameter, white or rarely pinkish, with a few minute scales and sparse wool. Fruits globose, red. Seeds very small, brown, arillate, with minute hairlike projections. Distribution: occurring over a north-south range of more than 1200 km (740 miles), primarily on the eastern side of the Andes in southern Bolivia and northern and northwestern Argentina at elevations of 1200-3500 m (3900-11,500 ft).
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