George is an endangered Florida semaphore cactus, Consolea corallicola, a prickly pear native to the Florida Keys. But this species can no longer reproduce, leaving George lonely.
Lonely George came to the Desert Botanical Garden as part of a backup collection. The Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida has primary responsibility for George, but it is a “best practice” to have a backup collection elsewhere.
Why did George lose reproduction ability? There is no clear answer, but there are theories. One of those theories is based on the fact that George is a hexaploid plant with six complete sets of chromosomes. “Sometimes, when there are multiple copies of chromosomes they do not sort properly when the ovules and sperm are formed. Then when fertilization happens, it is impossible for a seed to form.”
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Kimberlie McCue, assistant director of research, conservation and collections, states, “By maintaining a healthy collection of Lonely George and telling his story, the garden is able to bring attention to conservation on a larger scale and share common threats that may affect other cactus species.”
The Desert Botanical Garden set up a display as part of the garden’s Cactomania initiative. As guests entered the garden, they were greeted by a multi-sided display featuring Cactomania information and “Meet Lonely George.” The display told the story of the endangered Florida semaphore cactus and encouraged visitors to“Help Find George Friends” by snapping a photograph of their favorite cactus at the garden and sharing on social media with #friendsforgeorge. The garden printed and posted pictures that people had submitted, and created a collage of visitor photographs on the display. The display also included one of the specimens. Check out the Lonely George video here.
Information provided by Steve Blackwell, Conservation Collections Manager, Lauren Svorinic, Assistant Director of Exhibits, and the Lonely George website.