Cardon Cactus

Interesting Facts About The Cardón Cactus

Native to San Felipe, the cardón cactus is the world's largest variety.  Some of these stately specimens have been reported weighing 25 tons, at a height of 70 feet tall at maturity.  Amazingly, they can also live to be more than 300 years old.

Description

The primary trunk often has over 25 branches extending from it vertically that are up to 5 feet around.  When the cardón cactus is young, it is exceptionally spiny which offers it protection from predators.  The spines gradually fall off as the specimen matures but few are actually replaced.

It is easy to identify older cacti of this variety as the lower trunks turn gray, wrinkle and crack and closely resemble the legs of an elephant.  The vertical ribs underneath the cactus are similar to an accordion which allows it to store an unbelievable amount of water to survive the dry desert conditions.

The cardón cactus has a shallow and extensive root system that works quickly to capture the torrential but very brief rains in the area.  Over one ton of water can easily be stored in the pulp-like, fleshy tissues of the trunk.  The interior framework of this specimen is something really special.  To support its massive weight, it has lightweight hardwood vertical roots that are amazingly strong and stiffen the ribs.  This structure has allowed it to become the biggest cactus species.

Flowers

Flowers appear on the cardón cactus from early March through the end of June.  They appear on the tips of the upper stems, especially those that are offered southern, warm exposure.  The flowers open up in the later part of the afternoon and stay open the entire night, closing to rest the following morning.

The cardón cactus relies on nectar-feeding bats to visit nightly for pollination.  Bats are the main pollinator as there is no seed production that occurs from insects, birds or daytime visitors.

The flowers are white, bell-shaped with a deep throat and a very thick coat of pollen around the rim that bats find very attractive.  Most nectar production takes place between 8:00 and 10:00 pm.  The bats circle late in the night, hovering over individual blossoms.  When the bat feeds, it forces its head into the flower's tube and laps up the nectar with its tongue.  The extraordinary amount of pollen sticks to the bat's face and when it visits the next flower on a different plant, cross-pollination takes place.

Fruit

There are a lot of seeds spread due to the bats feeding on the fruit.  Also, quite a few varieties of birds feed on it as well.  The fruit is about golf ball size with fuzzy, golden spines on the outside.  Quite often, the fruit simply splits open on its own, revealing the red, sweet flesh.

Every piece of fruit contains an impressive 800 seeds that are consumed by the birds and bats.  This is crucial to the growth of new cacti in the area.  The seeds need to be roughed up quite a bit for them to actually crack open and then sprout.  Digestive juices from the bird’s stomach take care of this.

In even the most perfect conditions, it takes thousands of germinated seeds to produce one cardón cactus.  Growth is exceptionally slow and it takes decades for one to be even the size of a small shrub.

Threats

Overgrazing by cattle and land development by humans are the two biggest threats to this cactus.  They are also occasionally plagued by a disease that is still not fully understood today.  It is referred to as “flat top decay” and it causes the top parts of the cactus to simply wither away.