Ferocactus wislizeni

Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Ferrocactus wislizeni
Black Mountain, NW of Deming New Mexico
March 5, 2015
Immediately above and two below.

Ferocactus wislizeni, the Fishhook Barrel Cactus (aka Southwestern Barrel Cactus and various other names), is one of the plants that were beginning to bloom - in a big way - in August 2013 (see photos below), when these comments were written.  Common names can be confusing: the small cactus of the genus Mammillaria are called Fishhook Cactus.  Be cognizant of the word “barrel”; we refer to them here simply as “fishhooks”.

After being dry for so long (we are now just below 5” of rain for the calendar year at our home in Hillsboro) the green and flowers add a certain joy to my bionic heart.  The fishhooks that we see here are not that big, generally less than three feet tall.  Plants in excess of 10’ have been seen in other parts of their range. 

There is a decided lean to the plant shown below.  Adult fishhooks typically lean to the south.  Some surmise that the growth of the south facing portions of the plant are retarded by the intensity of the sun.  This species is sometimes called “Compass Barrel” because of this tendency to lean south.  Over time (the lifespan of this species is up to 100 years), the lean can be so significant that the plant topples over.

The indigenous peoples of the southwest used this species as a food stuff, primarily as a drink (used as an additive or juice extracted from the pulp), as a vegetable (pulp prepared in  various ways), or as a porridge or candy (made from the seeds) leading to a common name of “Candy Barrel Cactus”.  The Yuma and Pima actually used the thorns as fish hooks, after heating them to refine the shape.  If you are inclined to eat this vulnerable species, visit Desert Tortoise Botanicals for recipes and food prep tips.

This species is pollinated by cactus bees (more than one species?)  There are 23 species of cactus bee in the southwest.  The photographs shown here were taken on August 9 - including the photo of a cactus bee gathering pollen and pollenating the plant.  Cactus bees are solitary ground dwellers .  I have yet to see one of their burrows; now would be a good time to be looking.

Ferocactus wislizeni is found in the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Sonora in Mexico and in the southern portions of the US states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

In early March, 2015, Patty Woodruff and Harley Shaw took Rebecca and I to one of the many hills in Ready Pay Gulch east of Hillsboro to see a Fishhook Cactus, Ferocactus wislizeni, which she and Harley had found the previous week.  Although fairly common around Deming, I have not seen them in this area before.  This species of Barrel Cactus can get quite tall and because they tend to lean toward the sun sometimes fall over.  

Ready Pay Gulch East of Hillsboro

Whereas, the Black Mountain Fishhooks have had a rough go with the drought conditions, this cactus seemed robust and healthy.  It was the only cactus of this species that we found on our outing to Ready Pay.

The photographs of a blooming plant was taken at Rockhound State Park, east of Deming (just south of the Black Range) on August 10, 1913.

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023