FAMILY: Cactaceae

DESCRIPTION: The aboriginal prickly apple has multiple slender stems that sprawl out from a single base. This remarkable cactus can reach up to 20 feet in height. It has scented, white flowers up to 5 inches long, and yellow, round fruit — each one packed full of hundreds of black seeds.

HABITAT: The cactus occurs in coastal strand vegetation (relatively low, salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses), tropical coastal hammocks with trees including gumbo limbo, wild lime or live oak. Populations are likely to be on shell mounds created by pre-European local residents, or at least on sites with shelly substrates. Plants may be quite close to the mangrove zone, but not in it.

RANGE: The cactus was formerly found throughout South Florida and the Keys. It is now found in Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties. It has been eliminated from the northern extent of its range in Manatee County.

REPRODUCTION: It produces flowers May through September and fruit June through October. Plant fragmentation could be a dispersal mechanism.

LIFE CYCLE: Establishment of new plants is likely an infrequent event and seedlings are rarely observed.

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

THREATS: As hydrology has a strong influence on plant distribution in coastal areas, this species is especially threatened by the ongoing threat of sea-level rise. It also continues to be threatened by habitat destruction, poaching, competition from nonnative plant species and habitat loss.

POPULATION TREND: This cactus has been extirpated from the northern extent of its range in Manatee County.


Aboriginal prickly apple cactus photo   Keith A. Bradley