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NATURAL HISTORY

SACRAMENTO MOUNTAINS THISTLE } Cirsium vinaceum
FAMILY: Asteraceae

DESCRIPTION: This plant has a pink to purple flower and may grow to be six feet tall. Its stems are purplish brown, stout and highly branched.

HABITAT: The Sacramento Mountains thistle is limited to high-elevation wetland habitat on travertine springs and seeps.

RANGE: The thistle is confined to wet habitats within a 150-square-mile area near Cloudcroft in Otero County, New Mexico. Ninety-five percent of its habitat is on the Lincoln National Forest.

LIFE CYCLE: The Sacramento Mountains thistle is a short-lived perennial that spends a single growing season as a reproductive adult and then dies upon setting seed. Generally pollinated by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and flies, the plant is also capable of self-pollination. It occurs in patches in a “metapopulation” structure dependent on pollen dispersal between patches.

THREATS: The primary threats to this plant are livestock grazing, spring diversions, logging, recreation and consumption and destruction by the exotic seed-head weevil.

POPULATION TREND: The decline of this plant has been documented since 2000. Between that year and 2007, the total population plummeted from 35,000 to 24,000 individual plants.

Sacramento Mountains thistle photo © Robert Sivinski