Ferocactus wislizenii (Engelm.) Britt. & Rose

by Laura Soito, Native Plants Class 2003
Common names:
barrel cactus, candy barrel cactus, fish hook barrel cactus
Family: Cactaceae
Synonymy: Echinocactus wislizeni Engelm.
Etymology: The generic name is from the Latin where ferox means ferocious, so this is the ferocious cactus (8).

Growth form:
Single stemmed succulent.
Roots: Shallow root system, many roots are less than 3 cm below the surface. There may be an anchoring root with a depth of 20 cm (5).
Stem: Barrel shaped up to 3 m tall with a diameter of 45-83 cm and 20-28 ribs (5). Faster growth on the south (shaded side) causes the stem to lean north in many cases (3, 6).
Leaves: Leaves are reduced to types of spines. The four dull red central spines on each areola are 3.8-5 cm long and hooked. There are also 12-20 needle-like radial spines per an areola with a length of 4.5-5 cm (1, 3, 5).
Inflorescence/flowers: Yellow to red funnel form flowers are found at the top of the stem (1, 4,5)
Fruit: Oval shaped, persistent fruit follows the flowers at the top of the stem. At maturity the fruit is 5 cm long and yellow (1, 5). A plant produces 30,000 seeds per year (2).
Similar species: Ferocactus covillei has similar central spines that are usually not hooked. The radial spines of F. covillei are often coarser and less needle-like (3).

Life history:
Perennial. Can live to be over 50 years old, with the oldest specimens found to be 130 years old (2,5).
Native/introduced: Native to the deserts of the southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.
Photosynthetic pathway: CAM
Phenology: Blooms most from July to September, but can start earlier (3). Fruits ripen in October or November (2).
Distribution: Found on porous soils from 300-1,600 m in the Sonoran and Chihuahua deserts from Arizona to western Texas including northwestern Mexico. In is found in southeastern Arizona from Maricopa County to New Mexico (1, 3, 4, 5)

Cactus stems may be grazed by animals if spines are removed by fire. Fruits are eaten by deer and peccary. Seed are eaten by birds (5)
Food: The pulp is used when making cactus candy (6, 7). Seeds were sometimes used in mush and stem strips used like greens, especially in spring (6). The pulp from the stem is sometimes used as a source of emergency water or for extreme thirst; however oxalic acid in the stem can cause nausea (6, 7).
Other uses: The spines have been used as fish hooks by several Arizona tribes (1, 3, 6, 7). Flowers were used by the Seri to make yellow face paint (1). The cactus is often used in landscaping (5).

1. Anderson, E. F. 2001. The cactus family. Timber Press. Portland, OR. pp. 65, 68, 70,336

2. Bowers, J. E. 2000. Does Ferocactus wislizeni (Cactaceae) have a between-year seed bank? J. Arid Enviro. 45: 197-205.

3. Epple, A. O. 1995. A field guide to the plants of Arizona. Globe Pequot Press. Guiford, CT. p. 161

4. Kearney, T. H. and R. H. Peebles. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. p. 573

5. Matthews, R. F. 1994. Ferocactus wislizenii. In:U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (2003, October). Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/cactus/ferwis/all.html [11/9/2003].

6. Moerman, D. 2003. A database of foods, drugs, dyes, and fibers of Native American peoples, derived from plants. <http://herb.umd.umich.edu/> Accessed: 2003 Dec 4.

7. Niethammer, C. 1974. American Indian cooking: recipes from the Southwest. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NB. pp. 8-9

8. Quattrocchi, U. 2000. CRC world dictionary of plant names: common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. CRC Press. Boca Raton. p.998