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Pachycereus pringlei
Elephant Cactus, Cardón, Cardón Pelón

Photo of Pachycereus pringlei (Cardon), by Reid Moran © 2000 SDNHM Closeup photo of Pachycereus pringlei (Cardon), by Reid Moran © 2000 SDNHM

CACTACEAE (Cactus Family)

The generic name refers to the lower portion of the trunk that resembles an elephant's leg: pachy, "stout trunked," and cereus, "columnar cactus." The specific epithet refers to Cyrus Guernsey Pringle who was a Quaker, American botanist, and plant collector. He also was a plant breeder on his farm in Vermont, keeper of the herbarium at the University of Vermont during 1902, and collected extensively in the Pacific states and Mexico between 1880 and 1909.


A giant cactus growing to 20 m (60 feet) high with a columnar trunk up to 1.5 m (4-1/2 ft) wide. The trunk and branches have 11 to 17 ribs covered with many areoles of 20 to 30 gray spines. White flowers bloom from March to June, and then form tan bristly fruits.

(The photograph at right is the trunkless form typical to islands in the Gulf of California. See next page for a photograph of a very tall specimen — with a trunk — taken on the peninsula near Cataviña.)

Range and Habitat

Cardón grows on rocky hillsides and deep soils of alluvial fans off the eastern base of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, in the southern San Felipe Desert, and level plains from San Felipe and El Rosario south to the Cape Region. Cardón is also found on many Gulf of California Islands and in coastal Sonora south to Guaymas. It often mixes with the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) on the Sonoran side of the Gulf. The Saguaro is not native to Baja California.

Natural History

The white flowers open in late afternoon, and remain open until noon of the next day. They are often pollinated by bats, as well as birds and insects. The fuzzy fruit usually has pink to red flesh —sometimes white — and black seeds that are often eaten by birds. Native inhabitants used the fruit as a staple food; they ground the seeds into a pinole (finely ground flour), and made a juice by pouring water through the ground fruit. The cactus flesh is used by locals for its apparent pain killing, disinfectant, and other healing properties, and the dried ribs of the cactus for fishing spears, poles, fences, corrals, house walls and rafters. The Cardón is known to form a naturally occurring intergeneric hybrid with Bergerocactus emoryi (Velvet Cactus) in the El Rosario area of Baja California called xPachygerocerus orcuttii. The Cardón is trioecious with different individuals bearing flowers that are bisexual, staminate, and pistillate.

Text by Bob Lauri
Photographs by Reid Moran

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