(Engelm.) Britt. & Rose
by Laura Soito,
Native Plants Class 2003
Common names: barrel cactus, candy barrel cactus, fish hook barrel
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)
Wildlife: 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].
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.