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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Endangered Cactus

Endangered Cactus

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, October 6, 2015/Categories: wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, plants

                        Miniature Barrel Cactus,  Echinocactus sp.  (credit: Riled Up)

A survey of plants conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and just published in Nature Plants  lists nearly one-third of all cactus species as endangered. Te IUCN's latest  Red List  of threatened species declared: 

"Thirty-one percent of cactus species are threatened with extinction in the first comprehensive, global assessment of cacti. This puts cacti among the most threatened groups of wildlife assessed in the Red List of Threatened Species and more threatened than mammals and birds."

With one notable exception, all plants within the  Cactus family  are indigenous to North or South America. Some species are widely distributed while others are highly restricted and endemic to a specific locale or environment. Many cacti have beautiful flowers that have attracted people to use for ornamental purposes.

Worldwide Distribution of Cacti (credit: Wikipedia)

Threats to cacti are numerous. Over 700 species are consumed by people as food and medicine while ranching and land-use changes compound these uses. The illegal trade in live cacti sold commercially and to private collectors in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere represents another threat, This harvest of wild plants is often unsustainable and beyond the restricted ability of the cacti to reproduce in their semi-arid or hyper-arid environments. These combined threats affect 47% of all the newly declared IUCN threatened cactus species.

                             Easter Lily Cactus (Echinopsis pampana), Peruvian native (credit: Wikipedia)

One example according to the Red List is:

"the once-abundant Echinopsis pampana, endemic to the puna desert of Peru, that has been collected illegally for the ornamental plant trade at such high rates that at least 50% of the population has disappeared in the last 15 years. Its loss is irreversible as the areas that were once populated by the species have since undergone land use change for housing purposes."

A potential and positive alternative---the ability to propagate plants horticulturally---offers some conservation opportunities. The illegal cacti trade has been somewhat reduced by the inclusion of most cactus species under international trade rules especially  CITES . The increased availability of some rare cacti propagated from seed, cuttings, and  plant tissue culture  has reduced the wild demand but much more needs to be done in this field.

Two short videos illustrate why you should care about cacti, what can be done for their conservation, and some of their remarkable beauty:


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