- Agave Plant Family
- Woolly Torch Cactus
- Quiz: It’s Easier Being Green
- Golden Barrel Cactus
- Jade Plant
- Elephant Foot Tree
- Eye Spy Game
- Olive Tree
- Prickly Pear
- Paper Flower
- Seasonal Changes
- Quiz Answer
- Thank You
Welcome to the Arid Pyramid. These plants have adapted to harsh environments and can survive dry air, irregular moisture, wide day and night temperature fluctuations and sandy or rocky terrain. Please start the tour at the pyramid entrance. This map illustrates the two major arid biomes.
Follow the directions and read the plant labels to find the plants along the tour. Hint: 1 metre = 1 huge step. Use the table of contents to read about each plant as you find them. Please remain on the path and do not pick any plant material.
Walk ahead 8m
Look left to see some agave plants.
Agave Plant Family
Scientific Name: Agave parryi and Agave americana
Origin: North America
- Agave stalks are used to construct baskets, nets and brushes
- Mezcal and tequila are both alcoholic drinks that come from agave plants
- Agave nectar can be used as a sugar substitute
- Some Agave plants produce chemicals which can be used as birth control or steroids
Walk ahead 2m
Look left to see the woolly torch cactus.
Woolly Torch Cactus
Scientific Name: Cephalocereus palmeri
- White hairs are for protection from heat and cold
- The white colour of the hairs reflects the sun’s heat
- The plant’s fan shape allows it to expand to store water after rainfall
- Areas with much denser hair indicate where the flowers will grow
Like many cacti in the Arid Pyramid, the wooly torch cactus has a green stem. Why do you think that is?
- To make food
- Attract pollinators
Look behind the woolly torch cactus to see the golden barrel cactus, which has also adapted to survive without much water.
Golden Barrel Cactus
Scientific Name: Echinocactus grusonii
- Extracting water from this plant is more effort than it’s worth; stored water is tightly bound to flesh of cactus and can’t be easily squeezed out.
- Large, round stem stores water during dry spells
- Tough outer layer and sharp spines protect plant from creatures looking for a drink
- Other accepted names are Golden Ball or, amusingly, Mother-in-Law's Cushion
Look at the jade plant and learn about another way plants store water.
Scientific Name: Crassula argentea
Origin: South Africa
- Stores water in fleshy leaves
- Other accepted names are friendship tree, lucky plant or money plant
- The jade plant can be used in making white wine
- A complete plant can grow from one leaf on the ground
Look to the left of the jade plant and you will find the elephant foot tree.
Elephant Foot Tree
Scientific Name: Beaucarnea recurvata
- Member of the agave family
- Large bulge at the bottom stores water and nutrients in roots during drought
- Other accepted names for the plant are ponytail tree or ponytail palm, although this plant is not actually a palm tree
Eye Spy Game
Can you find the plants that look like the following objects?
- Wolf Tail
- Kangaroo Paw
- Shaving Brush
Walk 10m down the path
Look right to see the carob tree
Scientific Name: Ceratonia siliqua
- Large seed pods used to make chocolate and coffee substitutes
- The seeds are always the same weight
- Throughout history, and even today, some countries use the seeds as a unit of measurement
- The word “carat” originated from the word “carob,” and remains the unit used to measure gold and diamonds
Look behind the carob tree to see another Mediterranean plant, the olive tree.
Scientific Name: Olea europaea
Origin: Mediterranean Basin, Europe, Asia, and Africa
- Humans have cultivated olive trees since 3500 BC
- Processed unripe fruits yield green olives
- Processed ripe fruits yield black olives
- Olives are now being looked at for use as a renewable energy source
- Olive leaves are used in medicinal teas
- Some Olive trees can live over a millennium
Walk 4m down the path
Look to the left. You will see Prickly Pear, another plant that produces fruit.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Scientific Name: Opuntia spp.
Origin: Mexico, U.S. and Canada
- Used to regulate blood sugar and treat arthritis
- Pads and fruit used to make jams, juices and dyes
- Some species of prickly pear can grow up to 30m (100 feet) tall
- The plant produces a flower, followed by a red fruit called a ‘tuna’.
Look across the path to your right. How many species of Aloe can you count?
Scientific Name: Aloe spp.
Origin: Egypt and Arabia, island of Socotra near Yemen
- There are more than 200 species of aloe
- Various types of aloe grow in this pyramid, but you won’t find the familiar Aloe vera
- Gel is a treatment for burns and scrapes
- Juice is commonly used internally to relieve digestive discomfort
- Legend has it that after Alexander the Great conquered Persia, his tutor, Aristotle, advised him to seize the island and secure the source of aloe.
Continue walking down the path towards the stairs. At the top of the stairs,
Look to your right to find the crown-of-thorns, a plant that is not as friendly to touch as the aloe.
Scientific Name: Euphorbia milii
- Contains a corrosive milky sap which is being explored for use as an alternative fuel source
- May resemble a cactus, but it is actually a type of Euphorbia or spurge, and in the same genus as poinsettias.
Stand on the bottom of the steps
Look at the red roof where you will see the paper flower.
Scientific Name: genus Bougainvillea
- Popular ornamental plant in areas with warm climates
- The showy flowers are actually colourful bracts (modified leaves)
- In the humid tropics the plant may flower several times per year
- The plant may only flower seasonally in areas with a long dry seasons
Although many people picture deserts as hot, dry places that never change, plants that live in the arid biomes of the world must adapt to large variations in water availability and temperature. We look forward to you returning to visit in a different season to see the growth changes in our arid plants.
To make food! The leaves are modified to form spines so the stem must now take on the role of photosynthesizing sugars.
Thank you for visiting the Muttart Conservatory and learning more about the Arid Pyramid. There are more QR Code tours available in each of the pyramids. If you would like to take part in a guided tour of the pyramids, please visit on a Saturday or Sunday when we have scheduled drop-in tours. Please visit the Muttart Conservatory website and Facebook page for up-to-date information on upcoming special events and information about the facility.
Try another tour: