Prickly Trade: Trade and Conservation of Chihuahuan Desert Cacti
Cacti belong to a family of plants that evolved exclusively in the Americas
landscaping with desert flora, a practice known as xeriscaping
Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion is home to almost 25 percent of the 1,500 cactus species known to science
West Texas, comprising the largest swath of Chihuahuan Desert in the United States, is the dominant producer of showy cacti (such as barrel and hedgehog cacti) and other succulents (for example, ocotillo, yucca, and agave) for urban markets in Arizona, Nevada, and southern California. Between 1998 and June 2001, nearly 100,000 succulents, with an estimated value of US$3 million, were harvested
Cactaceae, a family of succulent (water-storing)
informal and fluid nature of the cactus trade from the Chihuahuan Desert hinders research efforts
Phytosanitary (plant health) certificates
Barrel cactus (Ferocactus spp.), prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.), and saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) are the species most frequently used in landscaping projects because of their large, showy appearance
relatively new line of products containing prickly pear cactus, ranging from bottled beverages to skin-care lotions to herbal remedies to insect repellants
[1990s] positive changes, including a progressive shift from solely relying on wild specimens of rare species to artificially propagating
[1998 artificial cactus growth exports = 2.6mm, wild harvest = 5,700]
42% of species exported are from the Chihuahuan Desert region
71% of all exports were plants from the Chihuahuan desert
wild cacti in recent years have been reexports of musical instruments (rainsticks) made from species of Eulychnia and Echinopsis, two genera native to South America
Table 1. Exports or Reexports of Wild Cacti by Species (1998) [pdf pg 17]
U.S. domestic consumption of cacti harvested from the CDE is markedly higher than exports to foreign markets. Southwestern U.S. cities with arid climates absorb most of the live cactus plants harvested from the wild for xeriscaping
[markets in US] Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas Colorado and Oklahoma. Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada
blue barrel cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius) and horse crippler (Echinocactus texensis),
rainbow hedgehog (Echinocereus dasyacanthus) and Texas barrel (Ferocactus spp.),
Texas does not allow the commercial collection of cacti from state lands
Arizona DOES allow collection from lands
[Arizona uses permits, so unregulated TX can undercut them] (McGinnis 2000).
The Trans-Pecos and the South Texas Plains near Laredo in Zapata County, which falls outside the Chihuahuan Desert boundary, have the highest diversity and greatest concentration of cacti in Texas (Westlund 1991).
growing proportion of cactus plants produced in Hudspeth County may actually be artificially propagated in a Fort Hancock nursery (Clay 2000). [the high export numbers from the area suggest wild harvesting]
[volume of plants from TX to AZ dropped from the early 90s to 2000] [this could be b/c of declining wild populations (grazing, drought, overharvest) and/or b/c of increased artificially propagation] (Ferguson 2000; Miller 2000).
Table 4. Number of Succulent Plants by Genus Imported into Arizona from Texas (1998?June 2001)
Table 5. Summary of Plants Exported from Texas (by County) to Arizona (1998?June 2001)
ocotillos bloom in dry conditions and, therefore, provide a reliable source of nectar and energy for hummingbirds during the spring migration from Mexico to northern North America (Phillips and Wentworth 1999).
during the 1980s and 1990s, as many as 42,000 wild barrel cactus plants (Ferocactus cylindraceus) were illegally collected and commercialized from federal land in California, including Mojave National Preserve, for use in biznaga, a popular, traditional candy of Mexico (Inman 2000).
Table 7. Estimated Market (Retail) Value of Plant Taxa Imported into Arizona from Texas (1998?June 2001)
[rangers seized in big bend] prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.), living rock cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus), fishhook cactus (Ferocactus hamatacanthus), Tobusch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus ssp. Tobuschii), rainbow cactus (Echinocereus dasyacanthus), horse crippler (Echinocactus texensis), and nipple cactus (Mammillaria heyderi).
peyote (Lophophora williamsii), ? which Native Americans value for traditional and religious purposes, may be collected and sold under federal and Texas law by licensed peyoteros, or traditional collectors, for ceremonial use. As of 1995, 11 peyoteros participated in the legal collection of peyote, primarily in southern Texas, harvesting annually 200,000 peyote tops, or buttons, valued at US$150?170 per 1,000 buttons (Anderson 1995). According to the state of Texas, an average 2.1 million peyote buttons were harvested each year from 1995 to 2000 (Patterson 2001). Habitat alteration is believed to pose the greatest threat to peyote in the United States because it reduces the number and size of populations and may result in more intensive visiting and harvesting of extant sites by harvesters (Anderson 1995).
Table 9. CDE Cacti Native to the United States Included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants, and Their CITES Status
Table 11. Distribution and Protection Status of Cacti of the Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion within the United States
[varying laws about salvage, removal, clearing land/species. Differ by state, agency, (BLM, US Forest Service, etc) and county. Salvage = save from development. Tags/permits for a few dollars usually.]
Commercial demand for cacti (especially Ferocactus, Melocactus, and Echinocactus) in traditional Mexican foods and medicines causes some concern because of the large amount of plant material needed to satisfy market demands (FitzMaurice and Anderson 1997).
[Fort Bliss, White Sands Military Range are protected and large now but...] Though species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act are fully protected on military lands now, the Department of Defense has recently submitted draft legislation to the U.S. Congress to seek exemption from environmental regulations, including ESA requirements, perceived as interfering with military activities (Seelye 2002).
According to Texas export documents, 91 percent of live cactus plants traded legally from Texas to Arizona between 1998 and June 2001 originated in Hudspeth (39 percent), Presidio (29 percent), and Culberson (23 percent) Counties.
CDE cacti traded from West Texas counties to Arizona markets in volumes that raise initial concerns about sustainability are hedgehog (Echinocereus spp.), fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizenii), Texas barrel (Ferocactus hamatacanthus), and blue barrel (Echinocactus horizonthalonius) (tables 13, 15, 16, 18). Of those hedgehog species identified in trade, claretcup hedgehog (Echinocereus triglochidiatus [coccineus]) and rainbow hedgehog (E. dasyacanthus) were the most heavily and frequently traded between 1998 and 2001
Commercial demand for succulents from West Texas is not limited to cactus species, as is evident from the significant volume of imports of ocotillo (Fouquieria spp.), yucca (Yucca spp.), and agave (Agave spp.) that entered Arizona from 1998 to 2001 (tables 14, 17, 19).
Table 13. Wild-Harvested Succulents Whose Trade from Texas to Arizona Exceeded 1,000 Specimens (1998?June 2001) [to table 19]
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
relatively detailed data on cacti imported into Arizona from Texas were useful in quantifying and analyzing trade volumes and patterns between those states. However, data on cacti trade within Texas and New Mexico could not be obtained owing to the absence of any reporting system or centralized repository of information in those states. Therefore, incomplete data may distort the findings
Arizona is a prominent market for xerophytic plants and probably accounts for a substantial share of the domestic market
[poor naming convention] eagle claw cactus [as noted on apermit, could be] Echinocactus horizonthalonius, E.texensis, or Glandulicactus wrightii (Ferguson 2001)
[common and latin names are misused]
Engage Private Landowners in West Texas, (Hudspeth, Culberson, and Brewster Counties), grazing, mining, and oil or gas extraction, informal harvesting,
Conservationists question whether permission from private landowners is always obtained before live cacti and other succulents are removed
Texas will likely involve some degree of commercial exploitation because cacti (particularly Opuntia) and other succulents (Yucca, Agave, Dasylirion, Nolina spp.) are perceived as competing with grass and other forage species important to the diet of livestock (Poole 2001).
The defense mechanisms of succulents, whether morphological (spines) or biochemical (toxins), also pose a direct threat to livestock, further harming their image among private ranchers
Another potential source of income to private landowners is leasing the rights of harvesting cacti to cactus and succulent societies or to clubs whose members may pay a premium for the opportunity to harvest wild specimens from carefully managed wild populations on a rotational basis.
[Agencies working ? United States Forestry Service, BLM, many state agencies like Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, military bases, University]
New Mexico regulations require individuals to obtain harvest permits for native plants from its Department of Agriculture. However, these forms do not document information essential for monitoring and managing the resource, such as harvest location, species collected, and number of plants to be removed from the wild
New Mexico?s Department of Agriculture neither inspects shipments nor maintains records of cacti and other plants imported into or reexported from the state
Arizona?s regulations and native plant salvaging forms serve as promising models (see <www.agriculture.state.az.us/PSD/nativeplants.htm>). Plants entering Arizona must be declared, documented, and tagged on importation into that state.
ocotillos bloom in dry conditions and provide a critical source of nectar and energy for hummingbirds during the spring migration from Mexico to northern North America (Phillips and Wentworth 1999).
Table 20. Species Qualifying for Additional Monitoring or Conservation Measures in Texas
[in TX on private lands, collecting plants only requires verbal agreement, written may help]
Community-based propagation centers might be created in conjunction with local chambers of commerce and state universities
A useful model for extracting plant species and mother stock from wild populations for commercial propagation is Turkey?s flower bulb management system. Turkish villages, under the supervision of academic institutions and conservation organizations, propagate flower bulb species for export to western Europe. The effectiveness of local bulb propagation projects coupled with strict adherence to quotas for harvesting and exporting wild bulbs is contributing to the successful management of heavily exploited flower bulbs in Turkey.
A ?certified sustainable? label or tag on cactus plants would help consumers identify [good plants]
Promote Public Education and Responsible Purchasing
City water conservation offices promote xeriscaping to reduce water consumption but may unintentionally increase demand for mature plants taken from fragile desert populations
Xeriscaping literature distributed by city governments in Arizona, Nevada, and southern California where succulents from the Chihuahuan Desert are sold should advise homeowners to ask local nurseries, vendors, and garden centers about the availability of propagated or sustainably harvested plants.
Part II Chihuahuan Desert Cacti in Mexico:An Assessment of Trade, Management, and Conservation Priorities
Greater percentages of rare and highly restricted cacti are found in the Chihuahuan Desert than in any other desert in the Americas, with as many as 35 species confined to areas no larger than 2,500 square kilometers in the CDE in Mexico (Hernández and Bárcenas 1995, 1996).
Mexico 80%, USA 20% of the desert
collecting wild plants in Mexico for the sole purpose of resale or export is strictly prohibited
A survey of nurseries in more than 100 Mexican establishments in 13 states reveals 94 cactus species native or endemic to the Chihuahuan Desert in domestic trade, with three genera (Mammillaria, Turbinicarpus, and Ferocactus) accounting for 53 percent of the total species traded. Approximately 300 cactus species native to the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico were also documented in the international marketplace
lack of nurseries propagating rare species to meet international demand, confusing and often contradictory Mexican laws posing a barrier to establishing commercial plant breeding operations, and insufficient outreach efforts to rural villages to communicate the economic benefits of sustainable cactus harvest
Cacti are also distributed, however, in damper regions, such as pine-oak forests, deciduous and evergreen tropical forests, and cloud forests.
Two main centers of cactus diversity [CDE and] arid and semiarid zone of the southwestern Andean region, includes parts of Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Other regions known for a high diversity of cacti are eastern Brazil and the region of Central America that includes a part of southeastern Mexico, where a significant group of humid-zone epiphytic species are distributed (Barthlott and Hunt 1993; Hernández and Godínez 1994; Hernández and Bárcenas 1995, 1996; Rzedowski 1978).
highest concentration of cacti in the world is found in Mexico, which is home to approximately 684 species known to science (Hunt 1999).
two regions are recognized as being particularly rich in species and with high degrees of endemism: the southeastern and eastern regions of the CDE, and the Queretaroan-Hidalgoan Arid Zone (QHAZ). Those arid and semiarid regions of north-central Mexico also possess the world?s highest concentrations of threatened cacti (Hernández and Bárcenas 1995, 1996). Other important centers of high cacti diversity also exist in Mexico, such as the Sonoran Desert (Turner et al. 1995), the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley (Arias et al. 1997), and the Balsas River Basin by the Tehuantepec Isthmus (Torres et al. 1997).
for the purposes of this study, the CDE is delineated by an irregular and discontinuous polygon extending across the center of Mexico in a northwesterly direction from lat. 20° N and long. 98° W to lat. 34° N and long. 107° W in the United States
Jaumave Valley in Tamaulipas is important for its considerable concentration of endemic species such as Obregonia denegrii and Turbinicarpus gielsdorfianus
QHAZ is located in the arid regions of Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Hidalgo. It is inhabited by cactus species that occur nowhere else in the CDE and includes such species as Cephalocereus senilis, Lophophora diffusa, Strombocactus disciformis, and Turbinicarpus pseudomacrochele.
approximately 35 percent of the species (197 species) native to Mexico are threatened; no fewer than 115 of these native Mexican cacti are known to occur naturally within or adjacent to the CDE (Hernández and Godínez 1994; Hernández and Bárcenas 1996)
High levels of endemism, long life cycles, and low recruitment rates are among the ecological and biological characteristics of cacti that increase their vulnerability
Commercial collection may not destroy as many wild plants as development or livestock grazing, but it [is still serious]
complex and onerous government licensing procedures and reporting requirements, as well as low profitability and high costs of nursery maintenance. The high number of unregistered nurseries conducting business as compared to the low number of registered growers still in business reflects the fluidity and instability of the cactus-growing industry in Mexico
genera Mammillaria, Turbinicarpus, and Ferocactus accounted for 53 percent of the taxa identified [in mexican nurseries]
Mammillaria luethyi [propagation by seeds difficult. Grafting is much easier. Not approved into Europe, but seeds for sale in Europe. (FitzMaurice and FitzMaurice 2000). [endemic to Coahuila]
rare taxa in trade are Geohintonia mexicana and Aztekium hintonii, both of which are endemic to the state of Nuevo León [NL now restricts access]
?Flora of the Chihuahuan Desert? by Zimmerman et al.
Table 2. Taxa Reported in the Flora of the Chihuahuan Desert Not Found on the International Market
Table 3. Taxa in the Checklist of the Chihuahuan Desert Arboretum Not Identified in International Trade
Table 4. Market Representation Percentages of Cacti Genera in International Trade
Figure 5. Frequency Distribution of CDE Cactus Species by Foreign Nursery
136 CDE cactus species are extinct (1), endangered (17), rare (51), or vulnerable (67), and an additional 9 species are of indeterminate status.
The Mexican government has classified 146 species as in danger (14), threatened (96), or rare (36)
Table 8. Species of Conservation Concern Included in Only One of the Following Lists in CITES, IUCN, or NOM
Lophophora williamsii, also known as peyote, is a species for which conservation concerns are more justified, given the volume of plant material seized and the persistent pressure and demand on wild populations. Native Americans use peyote, a source of the hallucinogenic compound mescaline, in religious ceremonies in Mexico and the United States, where its collection, commerce, and consumption are strictly regulated. Peyote?s reputation as a natural hallucinogen may contribute to the illegal collection of wild plants as is evident from the seizure of 921 kg in Mexico over a five-year period. Continued illegal harvest of peyote poses a threat to the species? conservation and to the subsistence or spiritual needs of indigenous cultures that rely on wild plants for traditional use. Propagation of peyote is limited in Mexico and the United States, partly because of government restrictions, but peyote is extensively propagated in Europe.
Pachycereus marginatus widely cultivated and distributed in the wild throughout Mexico taken from the wild are probably transplanted in nearby gardens and, thus, may not result in death or the complete isolation of individuals from natural populations.
Cephalocereus senilis sensitive to harvest owing to the species? reproductive biology ? confined to a few ravines in the QHAZ, grows a single branch from which flowers emerge at the end to produce fruits and seeds. The removal of this branch from sexually mature plants can preclude flowering and seed production, the prolonged reduction of which can destabilize populations. Moreover, cut stems that do not undergo a posterior period for rooting are less likely to survive in cultivation, thereby undermining the conservation benefits of cultivation. [illegaly traded]
Other species that are traded illegally and appear frequently in seizures are Ferocactus latispinus, Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus, Mammillaria carmenae, Astrophytum myriostigma, and Aztekium hintonii. According to the species availability index, more than half (54 percent) of the species seized in Mexico are in short supply on the international market
Table 9. CDE Cactus Species Seized in Mexico and the Netherlands (1996?2000) [pdf pg 95]
germplasm (genetic material)
[Index of Trade Frequency (ITF)] El Huizache (square 600, ITF value of 0.93); Aramberri (square 379, ITF value of 0.93); San Pedro de Las Colonias (square 281, ITF value of 0.84); Hipólito (square 348, ITF value of 0.72); the area just north of Monterrey (square 347, ITF value of 0.58); and Cuatro Ciénegas (square 246, ITF value of 0.53) (table 10).
Table 10. Index of Trade Frequency (ITF) and Prioritization of Localities in the CDE [pdf pg 98]
Figure 13. Category of Priority for 131 Squares in the CDE [map of area showing ?hot spots? pdf pg 97]
Queretaroan?Hidalgoan Arid Zone, including eastern Guanajuato, is important for cactus conservation because of the region?s high levels of endemism and fragmentation from the rest of the Chihuahuan Desert. Within the CDE of the United States, Big Bend National Park (square u44) and its margins in Texas contain the highest concentration of specimens documented in trade by TRAFFIC.
In general, the localities concentrated in the south and southwestern portions of the CDE
Localities with high ITF values overlap with those previously reported as species-rich regions where most of the threatened cactus species of the CDE are also known to occur (Hernández and Bárcenas 1995, 1996). In some regions, an endangered species may be restricted to an area no greater than 2,500 square kilometers,
Aztekium hintonii and Geohintonia mexicana highlighted in this analysis (Hernández and Bárcenas, 1995, 1996). Some of these highly restricted, threatened cacti and localities in the CDE are at increasing risk from human uses, including illegal and uncontrolled harvest of wild plants, livestock grazing, and mining operations (Hernández and Bárcenas 1996).
[foreign collectors take wild specimens or buy already harvested at a non-registered nursery. Many seized coming to US.]
Government rules intended to protect native flora may be partly responsible for Mexico?s low production of cacti and other native plants for international trade. Interviews with commercial growers suggest that nursery regulations are prohibitively rigid and confusing and may dissuade legitimate nurseries from propagating cactus plants for the export market. [skeptical]
[domestic market of Mexico doesn't want to pay premium for rare species. prohibitively expensive export permits.. Few nurseries focus on conserving rare species. Change export requirements. Encourage rural communities to conserve by propagating rare species and then selling them on international market.]
Seized specimens are another potential source of nursery stock for establishing propagation centers.
Recent official inspections of private collections by German authorities led to the confiscation of 614 specimens of CITES Appendix I species, mainly of Mexican cacti of apparently wild origin (Thiede 2000).
Table 11. Cactus Taxa Selected for In situ and Ex situ Conservation in Mexico [pdf pg 104-]
[Conservation] promote cacti as a symbol of that country?s resilient environment, botanical beauty, and biological diversity
written materials and talks to villages, schools, and community leaders
Mexican government should consolidate, clarify, and communicate government rules for licensing and operating nurseries and for exporting propagated cacti and other native plants. This would help reduce confusion among nursery owners and might deter government officials from manipulating the rules at the expense of exporters
Identification manuals and training courses are also needed to help government wildlife and customs officials identify the source (for example, wild or propagated) and species of cacti grown in nurseries or destined for export
explain to local communities that illegal trade in native cacti undercuts the ability of local enterprises to produce and sell cactus plants and seeds in the marketplace,
Appendix 2 List of Taxa from the Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion Found in Mexican Trade [pdf pg 117]
Appendix 3 Taxa Identified in Mexican and International Trade [pdf pg 118]
Presidential Decree (Diario Oficial de la Federación, August 29, 1940) establishes that export of orchids and cactus species will be authorized only to persons who cultivate and propagate them within licensed establishments. The decree declares wild orchids and cacti as forest resources of public interest, in effect prohibiting export of noncultivated specimens, but provides for permits for collection and propagation of wild specimens. The decree also requires proof of inventories for export authorization.
[More legislation/regulations from mid 90s to 2000s] [pdf 135]