Pachycereus pringlei

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Pachycereus pringlei
Pachycereus pringlei in Baja California, Mexico
Scientific classification
P. pringlei (ቆልቋል kolkal)
Binomial name
Pachycereus pringlei

Cereus pringleiS.Watson [1]

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a species of cactus native to northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora. It is commonly known as cardón, a name derived from the Spanish word cardo, meaning "thistle". [2]


Large stands of this cactus still exist, but many have been destroyed as land has been cleared for cultivation in Sonora.

The fruit of this cactus was an important food for the Seri people in Sonora, who call the cactus xaasj. [3]

The flesh of this cactus contains alkaloids, and may have been used as a psychoactive plant in Mexico. [4]

A symbiotic relationship with bacterial and fungal colonies on its roots allows P. pringlei to grow on bare rock even where no soil is available at all, as the bacteria can fix nitrogen from the air and break down the rock to produce nutrients. The cactus even packages symbiotic bacteria in with its seeds. [5] [6] [7]


A cardon specimen is the tallest living cactus in the world, with a maximum recorded height of 19.2 m (63 ft), [8] [9] with a stout trunk up to 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter bearing several erect branches. In overall appearance, it resembles the related saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), but differs in being more heavily branched and having branching nearer the base of the stem, fewer ribs on the stems, blossoms located lower along the stem, differences in areoles and spination, and spinier fruit.

Its flowers are white, large, nocturnal, and appear along the ribs as opposed to only apices of the stems.

Lifespan and growth

An average mature cardon may reach a height of 10 metres (30 ft), but individuals as tall as 18 metres (60 ft) are known. [10] It is a slow-growing plant [11] with a lifespan measured in hundreds of years, but growth can be significantly enhanced in its initial stages by inoculation with plant growth-promoting bacteria such as Azospirillum species. [12] [13] [14] Most adult cardon have several side branches that may be as massive as the trunk. The resulting tree may attain a weight of 25 tons. [15]


1. ^ The tallest living cactus is a specimen of Pachycereus pringlei. The tallest cactus ever measured was an armless Saguaro cactus which blew over in a windstorm in 1986; it was 78 feet tall. [9]

Related Research Articles

Cactus Family of mostly succulent plants, adapted to dry environments

A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 127 genera with some 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. The word "cactus" derives, through Latin, from the Ancient Greek κάκτος, kaktos, a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity is now not certain. Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Almost all cacti are succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of most cacti where this vital process takes place. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade. In the absence of leaves, enlarged stems carry out photosynthesis. Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from Patagonia in the south to parts of western Canada in the north—except for Rhipsalis baccifera, which also grows in Africa and Sri Lanka.

Sonoran Desert North American desert

The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona and California and of Northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is the hottest desert in Mexico. It has an area of 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq mi). The western portion of the United States–Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert.

Barrel cactus

Barrel cacti are various members of the two genera Echinocactus and Ferocactus, found in the deserts of Southwestern North America. Some of the largest specimens can be found in the Mojave Desert in southern California.

<i>Cylindropuntia bigelovii</i> species of plant

Cylindropuntia bigelovii, the teddy bear cholla(choy-ya), is a cholla cactus species native to Northwestern Mexico, and to the United States in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

<i>Stenocereus</i> genus of plants

Stenocereus is a genus of columnar or tree-like cacti from the Baja California Peninsula and other parts of Mexico, Arizona in the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Venezuela and the ABC islands of the Dutch Caribbean. The genus has been enlarged by the addition of species from several other genera. A close relative is the peculiar chinoa or chende cactus, Polaskia chende.

<i>Stenocereus thurberi</i> species of plant

Stenocereus thurberi, the organ pipe cactus or pitahaya, is a species of cactus native to Mexico and the United States. The species is found in rocky desert. Two subspecies are recognized based on their distribution and height. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is named for the species.

<i>Ferocactus wislizeni</i> species of plant

Ferocactus wislizeni, the fishhook barrel cactus, also called Arizona barrel cactus, candy barrel cactus, and Southwestern barrel cactus, is a species of flowering plant in the cactus family Cactaceae, native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. It is a ball-shaped cactus eventually growing to a cylindrical shape, with spiny ribs and red or yellow flowers in summer.

Pitaya fruit of several cactus species

A pitaya or pitahaya is the fruit of several different cactus species indigenous to the Americas. Pitaya usually refers to fruit of the genus Stenocereus, while pitahaya or dragon fruit refers to fruit of the genus Hylocereus, both in the family Cactaceae. Dragon fruit is cultivated in Southeast Asia, Florida in the United States, the Caribbean, Australia, and throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

<i>Fouquieria</i> genus of plants

Fouquieria is a genus of 11 species of desert plants, the sole genus in the family Fouquieriaceae. The genus includes the ocotillo and the boojum tree or cirio. They have semisucculent stems with thinner spikes projecting from them, with leaves on the bases spikes. They are unrelated to cacti and do not look much like them; their stems are proportionately thinner than cactus stems and their leaves are larger.

Saguaro Species of cactus in the Sonoran Desert

The saguaro is a tree-like cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea, which can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994, Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona, was designated to help protect this species and its habitat.


Acanthochronology is the interdisciplinary study of cactus spines or Euphorbia thorns grown in time ordered sequence. Physical, morphological or chemical characteristics and information about the relative order or absolute age of the spines or thorns is used to study past climate or plant physiology.

Boojum forest

The Boojum forest is an area in central Baja California, United States, near Catiavinia known for endemic flora so bizarre and grotesque in appearance that the area was named after mathematician/logician Lewis Carroll's imaginary landscape story, The Hunting of the Snark.

<i>Echinocereus dasyacanthus</i> species of plant

Echinocereus dasyacanthus is a member of the cactus family, Cactaceae. It is one of about 2000 total species belonging to this family. The cactus is commonly known as Texas rainbow cactus because of the subtle rings or bands of contrasting colors along the stem of the plant. Not all Texas rainbow cacti have the "rainbow" coloration on their stems. Another common name is spiny hedgehog cactus.

<i>Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum</i> species of plant

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is a columnar cactus plant native to Mexico. They can grow up to 15 m (49 ft) high. The trunk of this species is 1.2 to 5.0 m tall and the fruits are large and burr-like. The specific name, pecten-aboriginum, is from the Latin, and means "native combs". It was inspired by the use of the fruits as hair combs.

<i>Echinopsis terscheckii</i> species of plant

Echinopsis terscheckii, commonly known as the cardon grande cactus or Argentine saguaro, is a large cactus native to South America and popular in cultivation.

Peniocereus striatus is a species of cactus known by several common names, including gearstem cactus, cardoncillo, jacamatraca, sacamatraca, and dahlia-rooted cactus. It is endemic to the Sonoran Desert, where it occurs in Baja California, Sinaloa, and Sonora in Mexico and Arizona in the United States.

Drosophila nigrospiracula is a fly species indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, spanning Arizona, California, and part of Sonora, Mexico. D. nigrospiracula share the Sonoran Desert with three other species of Drosophila: D. pachea, D. mettleri, and D. mojavensis. D. nigrospiracula do not exhibit sexual isolation between the other species. This fly breeds on the decomposing tissues of two species of cacti that are also endemic to the region: cardón (Pachycereus pringlei) and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).

<i>Mammillaria fraileana</i> species of plant

Mammillaria fraileana is one of about 200 species of the genus Mammillaria from the cactus family Cactaceae. This species is native to Mexico and can be found along the east coast of the southern part of Baja California Peninsula in Desert Scrub communities. They tend to grow in non calcareous dry granite-based soil but can also grow in rocky habitats, either in rock fissures or directly on top of the rock surface even without the presence of soil. Thus, the mineral composition of the rocks in their habitat directly influence their abundance. The habitat of Mammillaria fraileana is home to succulent flora and is particularly rich in local endemics. Currently, no major threats to the species are known to exist.

Drosophila metlerri, commonly known as the Sonoran Desert fly, is a fly in the genus Drosophila. The species is found in North America and is most concentrated along the southern coast of California and in Mexico. D. mettleri are dependent on plant hosts, namely, the saguaro and cardon cacti. Thus, they are most prevalent in arid, desert conditions. It is able to detoxify chemicals found in the rotting liquid of cacti hosts, which allows it to use otherwise lethal soil as a nesting site.


  1. "Pachycereus pringlei". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2011-11-03.
  2. Chamlee, Bob. "Cardón cactus, Pachycereus pringlei". Los Cabos Guide to Good Eating and More!. Archived from the original on 2006-04-15. Retrieved 2011-11-03.
  3. Brown, Ethan (September 2002). "Professor X". Wired Magazine.
  4. Puente, M. E.; Y. Bashan; C. Y. Li; V. K. Lebsky (September 2004). "Microbial populations and activities in the rhizoplane of rock-weathering desert plants. I. Root colonization and weathering of igneous rocks". Plant Biology. Stuttgart. 6 (5): 629–42. doi:10.1055/s-2004-821100. PMID   15375735.
  5. Puente, M. E.; C. Y. Li; Y. Bashan (September 2004). "Microbial populations and activities in the rhizoplane of rock-weathering desert plants. II. Growth promotion of cactus seedlings". Plant Biology. Stuttgart. 6 (5): 643–50. doi:10.1055/s-2004-821101. PMID   15375736.
  6. Walker, Matt (2009-08-19). "How cacti become 'rock busters'". BBC News.
  7. Salak, M. "In search of the tallest cactus". Cactus and Succulent Journal. 72 (3).
  8. 1 2 "Windstorm Fells 78-Foot Cactus--Tallest in World" . Retrieved 2015-08-04.
  9. (León de la Luz and Valiente 1994).
  10. (Roberts, 1989)
  11. (Bashan et al., 1999
  12. Carrillo et al., 2000
  13. Puente and Bashan, 1993
  14. (Gibson and Nobel, 1986).

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