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NATURAL HISTORY

FLORIDA SEMAPHORE CACTUS } Consolea corallicola
FAMILY: Cactaceae

DESCRIPTION: The Florida semaphore is a tree-like cactus with a distinct trunk and a cluster of spines at the top. The cactus has a dull-gray, fleshy stem with shrubby branches that can grow to a lofty height of 6 feet. It has relatively small, scale-like bright red flowers and yellow egg-shaped fruit.

HABITAT: This cactus grows on bare rock with a minimum humus-soil cover in hammocks near sea level.

RANGE: This cactus used to be known from four islands in the Florida Keys, but now its only wild populations are in Biscayne National Park and the Torchwood Hammock Preserve on Little Torch Key.

REPRODUCTION: Flowering occurs throughout the year but peaks in February and March. The plants are functionally dioecious. All new specimens have been observed to originate from pads that fall from larger plants and take root to grow where they land.

LIFE CYCLE: Survival rates of fallen pads are low due to rot and moth damage. Production of seeds is rare and the few seeds that have been observed are thought to be the product of asexual seed reproduction.

FEEDING: This species, like most plants, gets its nutrition through photosynthesis.

THREATS: Threats to the species included habitat destruction and poaching, but its most serious current threat is sea-level rise. Other threats include extreme storm events; a historical threat was overcollection.

POPULATION TREND: Cactus hobbyists were thought to have eliminated the species from Florida in the late 1970s, but it was rediscovered at one site on Little Torch Key in the mid 1980s. It is presently known from two remaining wild populations.

 

Florida semaphore cactus photo courtesy Flickr/Carly Lesser and Art Drauglis