Artichoke cactus (Obregonia denegrii)

Artichoke cactus mature form
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Artichoke cactus fact file

Artichoke cactus description

GenusObregonia (1)

This small cactus is just visible above the surface of the ground, as the heads emerge only slightly from the larger underground root system (2). The distinctive appearance of the head, which has given rise to the common name of 'artichoke cactus', is formed by the spirally arranged, erect tubercles; at the tip of each, there are 3 - 4 flexible spines (2). White flowers emerge from the centre of the whorl of tubercles, and these develop into whitish-brown fruits if cross-pollination is successful (2).

Head diameter: 2.5 - 20 cm (2)

Artichoke cactus biology

This striking cactus produces flowers during the summer months. Fruits develop if the flowers are successfully fertilised through cross-pollination; the fruits dry and then split open, allowing the seeds to be washed away (and therefore dispersed) by rain (2).


Artichoke cactus range

Found only within the Valley of Jaumave in the state of Tamaulipas in eastern Mexico (2).


Artichoke cactus habitat

The artichoke cactus is found in semi-desert and shrubland at elevations of around 600 - 700 metres above sea level (5). It is often found on rocky, gentle slopes in limestone gravel (2).


Artichoke cactus status

The artichoke cactus is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Artichoke cactus threats

Artichoke cacti are in high demand for commercial trade and have previously been collected in large numbers (2). Local people use this species to treat rheumatism, and over-collection for this reason is also a threat (1). Habitat destruction, through urban development, road construction and livestock grazing pose further threats to survival; accelerated erosion has been observed at both known sites of this species (2). The total population is thought to have decreased by as much as 50% over the past 50 years; although around 5,000 individuals still remain (1).


Artichoke cactus conservation

International trade in wild-taken plants and seeds of the artichoke cactus is banned by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3). The species is also protected under Mexican law (4), although illegal collection does still occur (1). It has been suggested that the Valley of Jaumave is a prime candidate for a nature reserve (2), which if created would preserve the future of this appealing cactus amongst various others.



Authenticated (20/3/03) by Dr Nigel Taylor. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.



In cacti, a small wart-like or angular swelling upon the stem.
In animals, the spiral or convolutions in the shell of a snail. In plants, a set of leaves, flowers, or branches that spring from a stem at the same point and encircle it.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Anderson, E.F., Arias Montes, S. & Taylor, N.P. (1994) Threatened Cacti of Mexico. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  3. CITES (August, 2013)
  4. Taylor, N. (March, 2003) Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Pers. comm.
  5. Oldfield, S. [comp.] (1997) Cactus and Succulent Plants – Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Image credit

Artichoke cactus mature form  
Artichoke cactus mature form

© Nigel P. Taylor / Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 332 5000
Fax: +44 (0) 208 332 5197


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