CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis

Kathy Rice

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis

Common Names: 
Chisos hedgehog cactus, Chisos pitaya
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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 Fish & WildLife

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensisenlarge
Photographer: Kathy Rice

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensisenlarge
Photographer: Michael Gardner

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Kathleen C. Rice contributed to this Plant Profile.

Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis

Echinocereus chisoensis is a short, columnar cactus with dark green, relatively soft stems. The plants can be single or multiple-stemmed and can grow up to nine inches in height. Towards the top of the stems incredibly spectacular flowers appear in tri-colored shades of pink between April and July. A light fragrance is emitted during morning and evening. Fruits are semi-dry, splitting open along the side when mature, producing hundreds of seeds.
Flowering occurs in 'flushes' with many flowers opening at once during several intervals of the year. During March and April, the first one or two flowering events are spread over several weeks. Again, during September, a few flowers may be seen.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis
  Plants are truly rare, occurring in small numbers across the range, which consists of several sites within Big Bend National Park on flat desert pavement in a Larrea tridentata/Opuntia schottii community type (National Park Service 1982, 1987, Norland 1987, Poole 1987). Plants are found growing at the bases of creosote bushes, and also among the stems of dog cholla.

  Individual plants are widely scattered over the desert floor, hundreds of yards apart at times, well hidden at the bases of creosote bushes, and dog cholla (USFWS 1993). Only when the light is just right can plants be found; overlooked plants can be located during another time of the day.
The populations at Big Bend National Park are all extremely scattered, both between and among groups.

Number Left
  The population occurs within a single area in Big Bend National Park, with 11 occurrences (numbers of individuals are low in each population, as there are only ca. 1,000 individuals in 7 populations) (USFWS 1982a, USFWS 1993).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Mexico *FR85 8/26/1988  
  Texas S1 T 4/29/1991  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  E. chisoensis seems to prefer the protection offered by creosote bushes and dog cholla--almost no individuals are found independent of these two species (USFWS 1993).
Pollination is not a limiting factor, as seed set is abundant. Seedling survival may be the limiting ecological factor for survival of the species.

  The major threat to these cacti is collection, environmental stress and lack of reproductive fitness. Populations accessible by roadways are thought to be in decline (USFWS 1982).

Current Research Summary
  Research on E. chisoensis has been active since the late eighties, with the species studied by Texas Parks and Wildlife (McMahan et al. 1984), and the staff at Big Bend National Park (Evans 1986, Alex and Norland 1987, Norland 1987).
During 1999, Dr. Bonnie Amos, from San Angelo State University, and Chris Vassilou conducted reproductive biology studies on Echinocereus chisoensis at four sites in Big Bend National Park.
They applied four treatments at each site: open-pollination, self-pollination (exclosing flowers before and after selfing), cross-pollination with pollen collected from nearby plants, and exclosed with no manipulation.
Fruit set was high on open-pollinated plants, demonstrating that pollinator activity is adequate. Cross-pollinated flowers yielded similar results as open-pollinated flowers. The exclosed and selfed plants produced very few fruits, leading to the conclusion that Echinocereus chisoensis is probably self-incompatible.
Fruits produced as a result of these studies were sent to Desert Botanical Garden where seeds were and-cleaned and counted to determine number of seeds per fruit for each treatment at each site.
Numbers of seeds per fruit vary considerably with numbers ranging from 200 to over 700. The seed viabilities and germination percentages are now being tested at Desert Botanical Garden. (Desert Botanical Garden 2000)
Big Bend National Park has actively worked to conserve the species since 1982, when the species was included in
the Natural Resources Management Plan. Permanent monitoring plots were established and plants that were salvaged from road work were sent to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Desert Botanical Garden.

Current Management Summary
  Management at Big Bend National Park has been conducted with an awareness of the status of E. chisoensis. The Park has been working with Texas State Parks and Wildlife, San Angelo State University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Desert Botanical Garden to investigate the reproductive biology of E. chisoensis.

Research Management Needs
  Populations require continued monitoring, biotic and abiotic features of the community and how they interact with this species need to be studied (USFWS 1993).

Ex Situ Needs
  Desert Botanical Garden has an ongoing agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a conservation seedbank of thirteen rare plants that grow in west Texas, including Echinocereus chisoensis. Under this agreement, some of the seeds sent to Desert Botanical Garden will be seedbanked both at the Garden and at National Seed Storage Lab. The apparently low reproductivity of this species may be linked directly to seed ecology.

In addition to traditional studies, we would also like to explore a hydration-rehydration technique of seed germination developed by Joseph Dubrovsky (1996). Dubrovsky allowed seeds of three species of cacti, Stenocereus thurberi, Ferocactus peninsulae and Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum, to imbibe, then dehydrate, then re-imbibe. The treated seeds germinated faster than untreated seeds, a strategy for survival allowing seedlings to accumulate a greater biomass during optimal conditions for germination and initial growth.


Books (Single Authors)

Benson, L. 1982. The Cacti of the United States and Canada. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. 1044p.

Poole, J.M.; Riskind, D.H. 1987. Endangered, threatened, or protected native plants of Texas. Austin, TX: Texas Parks Wildlife Department.

Taylor, N.P. 1985. The genus Echinocereus. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 160p.

Weniger, D. 1984. Cacti of Texas and neighboring states: a field guide. Austin: University of Texas Press. 356p.

Conference Proceedings

Amos, B.B.; Vassiliou, C. Preliminary Report on the Reproductive Biology of the Threatened Chisos mountain hedgehog cactus. Southwestern rare and endangered plants: proceedings of the third conference; September 25-28; Flagstaff, AZ. In: Maschinski, Joyce; Holter, Louella, editors. 2000. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Fort Collins, CO (Proceedings RMRS-P-23). p 191-199.

Electronic Sources

(2000). Center for Plant Conservation's National Living Collection--Profiles. Desert Botanical Garden. http://www.dbg.org/Collections/cpc.html. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Botany: Investigator's Annual Reports. The National Park Service: Big Bend National Park. http://www.nps.gov/bibe/iar/botany.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Conserving Native Species in Brewster County. Texas Department of Agriculture. http://www.agr.state.tx.us/pesticide/endangered/pes_brewster1.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Texas Threatened and Endangered Plants--Profiles. Texas Parks and Wildlife. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/nature/endang/plants/index.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Rees, M.D. 1988. Final listing rules approved for 25 species. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 13, 9-10: 3-5.

USFWS. 1988. Determination of Threatened Status for Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis. Federal Register. 53, 190: 38453-38456.

USFWS. 1988. Proposed Threatened Status for Echinocereus reichenbachii var. chisoensis. Federal Register. 52, 128: 25275-25278.


Alex, T.; Norland, J.E. 1987. Survey of Echinocereus reichenbackii var. chisoensis. U.S. National Park Service, Big Bend National Park, Texas. p.5.

Evans, D.B. 1986. Survey of Chisos pitaya (Echinocereus reichenbachii var. chisoensis). Big Bend National Park: U.S. National Park Service. p.18.

Heil, K.D.; Anderson, E.F. 1982. Status report on Echinocereus chisoensis. Albuquerque, New Mexico: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Heil, K.D.; Brack, S.; Porter, J.M. 1985. The rare and sensitive cacti of Big Bend National Park. Big Bend National Park, Texas. p.41.

Norland, J.E. 1987. Survey of Echinocereus reichenbachii var. chisoensis. U.S. National Park Service, Big Bend National Park, Texas. p.7.

USFWS. 1982. Status report on Echinocereus chisoensis. Albuquerque, New Mexico: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Endangered Species. p.19.

USFWS. 1993. Chisos Mountain Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus chisoensis var. chisoensis) Recovery Plan. Albuquerque, New Mexico: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. p.60.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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