US: Cactus bound for federal endangered list

On Nov. 25, a seldom-seen Southwest Florida cactus species will be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Historically known in Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties, the aboriginal prickly apple now can be found in nine locations in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

“It was probably never super-abundant,” wildlife service botanist David Bender said. “Of the populations known historically, they’ve declined from numbers in the hundreds to double or single digits.”

Also known as prickly apple cactus, west coast prickly apple and yellow prickly apple, the aboriginal prickly apple is found on coastal berms and spoil mounds, Indian shell mounds, maritime hammocks and coastal grasslands.

It was first collected by A.S. Hitchcock in 1900 in Lee County and was listed as endangered by the state in 1991 — the Indian River prickly apple, which occurs on the east coast, was listed as endangered in Florida in 1992.

In 2004, researchers estimated that 350 to 400 aboriginal prickly apple plants existed in the wild; in 2006, a second estimate came in at 300 to 500 plants.

As is often the case with imperiled species, loss of habitat to development has been the greatest threat to the aboriginal prickly apple.

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