May 12, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Cactus Evolution Explained

Phew, finally: now we know how cacti evolved, reports EurekAlert.  Ouch!  On second thought, how’s that again?
    Two Yale scientists set out to figure out how the succulent plants turned leaves into spines.  Using molecular methods, they identified the earliest cactus, but then said it “already showed water use patterns that are similar to the leafless, stem-succulent cacti.” 

“[Our] analyses suggest that several key elements of cactus ecological function were established prior to the evolution of the cactus life form,” explain the authors.  “Such a sequence may be common in evolution, but it has rarely been documented as few studies have incorporated physiological, ecological, anatomical, and phylogenetic data.”

But if the key innovations for cactus ecological function were already present, how is this an example of evolution?

The press release is shamefully titled, “How did cactuses evolve?”  It should be titled, “Did cacti evolve?”  Apparently not; they were already adapted for their water use lifestyle from the start.  If “this sequence is common in evolution,” where the function already exists before the evolution begins, it sounds like creation, not evolution.
    Enough with the Darwinian tales.  Focus instead on the design features of these amazing plants.  The article rightly states, “The cactus form is often heralded as a striking example of the tight relationship between form and function in plants.  A succulent, long-lived photosynthetic system allows cacti to survive periods of extreme drought while maintaining well-hydrated tissues.”  That is design, folks, not evolution.

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