Agave Living-rock Cactus


Description and biology

Like all cactus plants, the agave living–rock cactus is a succulent (plant that has thick, fleshy, water–storing leaves or stems). It measures only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 centimeters) across.

A stout stem grows up from the center of the plant. At the top of the stem is a rosette, or spreading cluster of fleshy, rough, gray–green, leaflike appendages. These measure 1.6 inches (4.1 centimeters) long.

Flowers arise from these appendages, blooming in November and December. The flowers, which open at night, are rose–pink to magenta (bright purplish–red) in color. They are funnel–shaped and measure 1.6 to 2 inches (4.1 to 5.1 centimeters) long. The fruits of this cactus are brownish–red club–shaped berries that measure almost 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) long.

Habitat and current distribution

This species of cactus inhabits the dry foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental (a range of mountains running along the Gulf of Mexico) in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. It is found mainly at an elevation of 3,900 feet (1,189 meters).

A botanical survey in 1992 counted more than 12,000 individual plants. However, in 2001, the population of the species was estimated to be more than 100,000 individual plants, and in some areas they were reproducing at a healthy rate.

History and conservation measures

The agave living–rock cactus population has been reduced in number and continues to be threatened by collectors. It is highly prized by cactus enthusiasts because of its unusual shape. Urban expansion, rubbish dumping, and soil erosion have also contributed to the decline of this plant species.

This cactus is protected by international treaties, but illegal collection and trade continue. To ensure the survival of the agave living–rock cactus, legal protection of the species must be enforced.

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