Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park
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Fishhook Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)
Family: Cactaceae

Fishhook Barrel Cactus Ferocactus wislizenii
The orange-yellow flowers of the barrel cactus start to appear in July through September.

The fishhook barrel cactus is one of the largest barrel cactus species in North America.  It is found in desert grassland and desert shrub habitats of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. The frost-sensitive species is usually solitary but sometimes branches into multiple stems.  It generally has a life span of 50 to 130 years.  The accordion-type pleating (or ribs) of the stem allows the barrel cactus to expand and store water after brief periods of heavy downpours.  The absorbed water is stored in the form of a slimy alkaline fluid, so contrary to popular myth, it is not readily available for drinking.

Yellow to reddish flowers generally peak from July through September, and the yellow fruits can remain on the plant for up to a year.  The apex of the barrel cactus sometimes leans to the southwest where heat is the strongest.  This allows strong sunlight to hit the top of the plant where dense spination shades the growing stem.  Seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents.  Native Americans used barrel cactus pulp to make candy and jelly.  The flowers were used to create a yellowish pigment, and the hooked central spines were used as fishhooks.