CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Consolea corallicola

Photographer:
Meghan Fellows

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Consolea corallicola


Family: 
Cactaceae  
Common Names: 
Florida semaphore cactus, semaphore cactus
Author: 
Small
Growth Habit: 
Shrub
CPC Number: 
3030

Distribution
Protection
Conservation
References


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Consolea corallicolaenlarge
Photographer: Meghan Fellows
Image Owner: Fairchild Tropical Garden

Consolea corallicolaenlarge
Photographer: Meghan Fellows
Image Owner: Fairchild Tropical Garden


Consolea corallicola is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Jennifer Possley contributed to this Plant Profile.

 
Consolea corallicola


Opuntia corallicola is a prickly pear cactus endemic to the Florida Keys. Plants can grow to a tree-like form, with a trunk differentiated from the branching upper cladodes (Britton and Rose 1920, Small 1930) (the common name, "semaphore cactus," refers to the species' resemblance to the posts used to signal railroad trains). Opuntia corallicola may very well be the most endangered plant in the United States. There exists only one population of eight genetically distinct individuals and several hundred small clones (from fallen pads), located in the Florida Keys. To make matters worse, the recent arrival of an exotic insect pest, the cactus moth, is greatly threatening the health of the remaining individuals (Bradley and Gann 1999). The population has survived as well as it has through careful management by The Nature Conservancy, and through the help of volunteers who check the cacti for cactus moth larvae each week.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
  Florida
State Range of  Consolea corallicola
Habitat
  Found in a rocky, well-drained hardwood hammock (Avery and Loope 1994, Austin 1998).

Distribution
  Historically, this cactus was known from Key Largo and Big Pine Key (Barnhart 1935), but development has destroyed these populations (USFWS 1994). The only "wild" population remaining is in a Nature Conservancy preserve in the middle Keys. Several outplantings by Fairchild Tropical Garden (FTG) and the University of South Florida (USF) were made in the late 90s. FTG planted less than 200 cacti on Key Largo and Big Pine Key, the majority of which have died. USF planted 240 cacti on 6 keys: Big Pine Key, Upper Sugarloaf Key, No Name Key, Little Torch Key, Ramrod Key, and Cudjoe Key. At least 3/4 of cacti planted by USF have been lost to damage from the introduced exotic cactus moths (Lippencott 1990).

Number Left
  8 individuals in 1 "wild" population, several dozen individuals at ouplanted sites, and an unknown number on private lands (Garvue 1998, USFWS 1999).

Protection

Global Rank:  
G1
 
12/27/2005
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
C
 
1/19/1996
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  
No
 

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Florida S1 (LT) 2/1/1989  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  The cactus moth (Cactoblastis cactorum) was introduced to Australia in 1926 as a biological control for an invasive prickly pear cactus. Unfortunately, this species has made its way to North America and the Caribbean, and is threatening the native prickly pear throughout the continent. The species lays its eggs (which look amazingly like cactus spines) on Opuntia spp. Upon hatching, the larvae feed on the fleshy pads, and can decimate a population (Johnson and Stiling 1996).
Much of the remaining population is suffering from what appears to be a rot-causing pathogen. Pads become brown and mushy and many eventually die. Dr. Peter Stiling (2000) of the University of South Florida (Tampa) is investigating the cause of this apparent disease .

Threats
  Threats include:
Habitat destruction
Collection by cactus enthusiasts
Exotic cactus moth larvae
Salt water intrusion
Canopy closure
Lack of genetic diversity
Pathogens

Current Research Summary
  Negron-Ortiz (1998) determined O. corallicola to be reproductively sterile, showing that it is self-incompatible and does not reproduce sexually. Seedling recruitment does not occur in nature; rather, new propagules are formed clonally by fallen pads and (sterile) flower buds.



Dr. Peter Stiling of University of South Florida in Tampa has conducted life history research, and is currently investigating the cause of a brown rot that plagues many of the cacti.

Fairchild Tropical Garden is in the beginning stages of a long-term greenhouse study, investigating the effects of salinity and light levels on cactus health.

Current Management Summary
  The Florida Keys chapter of The Nature Conservancy has set up a regular, consistent monitoring program. On an biannual basis, cacti are measured, and flowers and rooted propagules are counted (Bergh et al. 2000) In addition, TNC coordinates the efforts of volunteers who monitor the cacti for cactus moth larvae every week, removing any larvae they find.
The Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection manages and monitors the outplanting on Key Largo.

Research Management Needs
  Additional suitable reintroducing sites with available staff for monitoring need to be located.

Ex Situ Needs
  Fairchild Tropical Garden has sufficient numbers of propagules to conduct reintroductions. Because their collection contains propagules of now-dead parent plants, it contains more genetic diversity than the current wild population.

References

Books (Single Authors)

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

Britton, N.L.; Rose, J.N. 1920. The Cactaceae: descriptions and illustrations of plants of the cactus family. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Books (Sections)

Bergh, C.; Gordon, D.R.; Higgins, A. 2000. Monitoring growth of the rare semaphore cactus (Opuntia spinosissima). In: Gordon, D.R.; Slapcinsky, J.L., editors. Annual Research Report: A Compilation of Research Conducted or Supported by The Nature Conservancy in Florida. Florida Science and Stewardship Programs and The Nature Conservancy.

Electronic Sources

Chornesky, E.A.; Palmer, C.M. (1995). California Exotic Pest Plant Council 1995 Symposium Proceedings Use of Biologically Based Methods to Control Pest Plants: Issues Related to Federal Research, Regulation, and Implementation.

Denton, S. (2001). Photo Library of Native and Naturalized Plants of Florida. Biological Research Associates. http://www.biolresearch.com/Plants/index.php?id=C. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Austin, D.F.; Binninger, D.M.; Pinkava, D.J. 1998. Uniqueness of the endangered Florida semaphore cactus (Opuntia corallicola). Sida. 18, 2: 527-534.

Barnhart, J.H. 1935. Chronicle of the Cacti of Eastern North America. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. 36, 421: 1-11.

Garvue, D. 1998. Endangered species profile: Florida semaphore cactus, Opuntia spinosissima. Garden News (Fairchild Tropical Garden). 53, 5: 12.

Gordon, D.R.; Kubisiak, T.L. 1998. RAPD Analysis of the Last Population of a likely Florida Keys Endemic Cactus. Florida Scientist. 61, 3/4: 203210.

Johnson, D.; Stiling, P.D. 1996. Host specificity of Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), an exotic Opuntia-feeding moth, in Florida. Environmental Entomology. 25, 4: 743-748.

Lippincott, C. 1990. Rare Plant Conservation. Fairchild Tropical Garden Bulletin. 6-15.

Negron-Ortiz, V. 1998. Reproductive biology of a rare cactus, Opuntia spinosissima (Cactaceae), in the Florida Keys: why is seed set very low?. Sexual Plant Reproduction. 11: 208-212.

Small, J.K. 1930. Consolea corallicola - Florida semaphore cactus. Addisonia. 15: 25-26.

Reports

Alcorn, P.W. 1990. Element stewardship abstract for Opuntia spinosissima, Florida semaphore cactus. Arlington, Virginia: The Nature Conservancy.

Avery, G.N.; Loope, L.L. 1980. Endemic taxa in the flora of south Florida. Report T-558. U.S. National Park Service, South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park: p.Pages 5-6.

Stiling, Peter. 1998. Final Report for Contract Number 4275: A Strategy for the Reintroduction of the Endangered Semaphore Cactus in the Florida Keys. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Stiling, Peter. 1998. Reintroduciton of Opuntia spinosissima in the Florida Keys. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Stiling, Peter. 1999. A Strategy for Reintroduction of the Endangered Semaphore Cactus in the Florida Keys. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Stiling, Peter. 2000. A Strategy for Reintroduction of the Endangered Semaphore Cactus in the Florida Keys. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

USFWS. 1994. Final report on the endangered Florida semaphore cactus. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

USFWS. 1999. Status summaries of 12 rockland plant taxa in southern Florida. Vero Beach, Florida: Report submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


  This profile was updated on 9/28/2010
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