Cactus Family (Cactaceae)

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Bergerocactus emoryi - golden cereus

Only a single large clump of this cactus has ever been recorded on the island and its position on a cliff edge appears quite precarious! The clump includes many stems (each 1- 2.5” in diameter) with dense yellow spines that appear golden in the sunlight. Large (<3” across) yellow flowers can be seen in early winter. This genus of cactus has only one species, and although the species barely extends into southern San Diego County in California, it is otherwise restricted to the California Floristic Province in Baja California (the northwestern coastal region south to El Rosario).

Bergerocactus emoryi 1 Bergerocactus emoryi 2 Bergerocactus emoryi Map

Cylindopuntia prolifera - coastal cholla

This cholla is found in every part of the island. It is a hybrid species that has a wider range than either of its parent species (C. alcahes and C. cholla, neither of which grow on the island). It dominates the coastal scrub community on the island, appearing also in considerable numbers in the sandy and marshy areas to the southeast. It is easy to identify by its cylindrical, branching stems. The long spines are hooked at the tips and very painful to remove from skin. The plant reproduces very readily (if not entirely) from stem segments that break off from the parent. This plant does not flower abundantly, but flowers are a showy pink and fairly large (ca 3” in diameter). Pale yellow-green fruits appear on the end of branches but are often without seeds.

Cylindopuntia prolifera 1Cylindopuntia prolifera 2Cylindopuntia prolifera  Map

Echinocereus maritima - hedgehog cactus

This plant grows as a clump of dense short stems, making it easy to identify. This cactus is endemic to the Baja California peninsula (does not grow anywhere else in the world). It blooms in summer and fall, producing large yellow flowers (up to 4”) and produces spiny red fruit the size of golf balls. Some of the individual mounds of this plant can reach several feet across. This cactus is restricted to the southeast corner of the island, and it is most abundant in the sheltered area on the rocks behind the fishing village. It is generally found growing in close association with the barrel cactus (Ferocactus fordii)

Echinocereus maritima 1Echinocereus maritima 2Echinocereus maritima Map

Ferocactus fordii subsp. fordii - barrel cactus

The barrel cactus has an iconic form familiar to all cactus-lovers. These upright cacti have just one stem and often take the form of large rounded cylinders. Individuals may become quite large (up to 1 ft across and 2ft high). Scattered throughout the island with considerable frequency, many have lichens growing on their hooked, striped spines. This taxon is narrowly endemic on the Baja California peninsula and is easily distinguished from other barrel cacti by its bright pink flowers and coastal habit. Fruits are pink when ripe and each usually contains a large number of black seeds.

Ferocactus fordii subsp. fordii 1Ferocactus fordii subsp. fordii 2Ferocactus fordii subsp. fordii Map

Lophocereus schottii - old man cactus

Only one individual of this distinctive columnar cactus has ever been recorded on the island, and it is far from the trail on the southwestern part of the cinder cone. This plant is more characteristic of the Sonoran Desert, however it occurs in scattered populations in the California Floristic Province portion of northwestern Baja California. Mature stems develop thick wiry hair-like structures that cover the upper portion of the stem. Small (1.5-2.5” across) peach flowers are found amongst the ‘hairy’ outgrowths on the upper portions of mature stems. It is not documented whether this lone plant on the island sets fruit, however it appears to be quite mature and, as there is no evidence of younger plants in the surrounding area, this species may ultimately be lost from the flora of the island. This species has fruits that are good to eat, but it is more commonly cut and the stems used in drinks or food to combat diabetes. The old man cactus was considered ancient and sacred by Seri peoples but has not been cultivated.

Lophocereus schottiiLophocereus schottii Map

Mammillaria - fishhook cactus

Identification of Mammillaria species on San Martin Island has been a point of contention for quite some time. Robert Throne originally identified this cactus as M. hutchinsonia. Later, Steve Junak determined it to be M. dioica. Confusing the matter, our studies reveal the presence of M. louisae. It is not clear whether M. louisae exists in addition to M. dioica, or whether taxonomic confusion shrouds one taxon on the island. M. louisae is found flowering in later summer (July-August). It is usually found in sheltered spots on the island, has beautiful large (<2”) showy flowers from June to August. The small red fruits or ‘chilitos’ are full of small black seeds and very tasty. Plants are slow growing and sensitive to disturbance. The genus Mammillaria is distinctive on the island in its size, growth habit and hooked spines.

Mammillaria 1Mammillaria 2Mammillaria 3Mammillaria 4Mammillaria Map

Myrtillocactus cochal – candelabra cactus

This large, candelabra-shaped cactus has many distinctive columns arising from a single main trunk. Peach flowers give rise to small edible fruits (about the size of a quarter in circumference). Steve Junak documented some individuals on the southeastern lava rocks on San Martín Island in 1994 but we have not seen any during our visits over the last four years and it seems to have been extirpated from the Island. Junak remembers the plants being close to the fishing village, but even after targeted searches we could not locate this species. The most recent herbarium specimen was collected in 1932 (Howell 10723, CAS).

Myrtillocactus cochal

Playopuntia ficus-indica – nopal

The Nopal is grown as a food crop in Baja California and many other parts of the world. Both the large flat pads and the red fleshy fruits are eaten in a variety of ways. The large flat pads of this cactus have sparse spines and are much easier to prepare than their spinier relatives. The raw pads are often used in ‘jugos’ or fresh fruit juices since they are beneficial to people with diabetes. The pads can also be grilled whole, or cut and cooked with eggs or cooled and served as a salad. Fruits are peeled and eaten raw or used to flavor drinks or even processed with sugar to make jams and desserts. On the island these plants are mostly found close to the fishing village where they were doubtless introduced for food. The flowers are bright yellow and abundant through the drier months of the year, from June onwards.

Playopuntia ficus-indica 1Playopuntia ficus-indica 2Playopuntia ficus-indica

Platyopuntia oricola – nopal

This species of cactus appears quite similar to other flat-pad cacti, differing mostly in subtle spine characters. To date, only one individual has been located on the island. This single plant is fairly young and found behind the fishing village, just north of the cove inlet, in the southern portion of the coastal scrub on the island. This is a recent addition to the flora of the island, as it was not recorded here in the 1980s or early 1990s.

Platyopuntia oricolaPlatyopuntia oricola Map

Stenocereus gummosus - sour pitaya; creeping devil

This is a large thicket-forming cactus with multiple creeping stems that are occasionally branched. Reaching branch lengths of more than 10ft, it may well be the tallest plant on the island, although branches are often creeping and most individuals on the island are shorter at this time. Large showy white flowers open at dusk and develop into large, baseball sized red fruits that are very tasty and commonly eaten. Flowering and fruiting starts in the summer and continues into the fall. There are small numbers of this plant scattered across the southeastern corner of the island.

Stenocereus gummosus 1Stenocereus gummosus 2Stenocereus gummosus 3Stenocereus gummosus 4Stenocereus gummosus Map