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Agaves (including Yuccas) and Cacti are plants that have adapted to arid conditions (xerophytes) and so they are favorites for planting in The Ranch gardens and growing wild in the surrounding field.  Agaves and Yuccas belong to the Agavaceae family and the Cacti to the Cactaceae Family.  They share a common characteristic, conservation of water.  The two groups can be separated by the long, fibrous leaves found in the Agavaceae whereas the Cactaceae usually have rigid spines and a rounded form to diminish surface area for water retention.

Dick-Peddie provided a listing of the major plants comprising the Desert Grassland in New Mexico, the portion of southeastern New Mexico where The Ranch is located.  The following checklist of Agaves and Cacti were presented by Dick-Peddie as part of the major plants (* = diagnostic plant) of the Desert Grasslands.  Additional species have been added to this list as they have been found near The Ranch.


*Agave lechuguilla - Lechuguilla.  The Lechuguilla is a small Agave with leaves about 10" high on plants less than 1' wide.  The leaves are generally gray-green.  The flower stems are large, exceeding 8' sometimes, and the flowers are yellow tinged with purple.  The tall flower stems and the small plant make this species relatively easy to spot.

*Agave palmeri - Palmer Agave.  

Agave parryi - Parry Agave.  Parry Agave bears blue-green, narrow, concave, leave blades about 16" in length.  The flowers (June - August) are yellow and occur on a long 12' stalk.

Ancistrocactus uncinatus - Catclaw Cactus.  This small Barrel Cactus is about 6" in height.  The central spine of a cluster is extremely long, giving the cactus the appearance of being in a cage.  Flowers vary from orange to maroon and the fruits are bright red.

Coryphantha macromeris - Flabby Pincushion.  The Flabby Pincushion often forms low mats up to 6" in height.  The central spines (2-8) are generally dark brown to black  and they are surrounded by white or gray radial spines.  The plant is covered with tubercles that give rise to branches and flowers.  The flowers are large and violet.

Corphantha vivipara - Spiny Stars.  Spiny Stars are covered with dense spines and generally grow in small to large mounds.  Small plants have only with radial spines and more mature plants have stouter, longer, outward pointing white to brown spines.  The flowers are large and pink to violet.

Dasylirion leiophyllum - Desert Spoon.  The Desert Spoon has barbs that fringe the leaves similar to the Sotol; however, the barbs point toward the stem, away from the tip.  


Desert Spoon - The Ranch Gate 

*Dasylirion wheeleri - Sotol or Sawtooth Yucca.  The Sotol gained its name as the Sawtooth Yucca by the barbs that fringe the leaves, pointing toward the tip.  The leaves are about 30" in length and 1/2" wide, pale blue or green with yellow margins.  Young plants resemble grass but older plants develop a small trunk.  The flower stalk grows to about 10-12' and bears tiny white flowers.  

Echinocactus horizonthalonius - Eagle Claw.  Small barrel cactus that rarely reaches 6" in diameter.  The flowers are bright pink at the top of the plant.

Eagle Claw

Eagle Claw - Lot 14

Echinocactus texensis - Horse Crippler.  A solitary barrel cactus that grows low to the ground, up to 12" in diameter and 8" high.  The spines are few but very stout, particularly the central spine which is know to cripple horse or seriously hurt a man who happens to walk on it.  The flowers are salmon to violet with the petal tips fringed by a deeper color.

Horse Crippler - The Ranch Gate

Echinocereus pectinatus - Texas Rainbow.  The Texas Rainbow is usually a solitary cactus up to 14" in height.  The spines stick out in all directions.  The spines vary in color from yellow to orange or deep rust and they hide the stems surface.   The flowers are lemon-yellow with a green throat usually but variant colors include orange, pink, or peach.

Texas Rainbow - Lot 13

Echinocereus richenbachii - Lace Cactus.  Lace Cactus can be solitary or colonial.  The radial spines are flat along the stems.  The flowers are small, pink, and the petals have a beautiful sheen.  The ovaries of the flowers are covered with white wooly hairs.

Echinocereus stramineus - Spiny Strawberry Hedgehog.  The Spiny Strawberry Hedgehog is a mound builder with mounds as large as 5' across.  The spines are very long and straw-colored, often obscuring the shape of the individual stems.  The flowere are large, deep pinkish-red.  The fruits are reddish-purple and have a strawberry flavor. 

Echinocereus triglochidiatus - Claret-Cup Cactus.  The Claret-Cup grows to a height of about 10" in mounded clusters.  The spines are about an inch in length and grow in clusters on ribs.  The 3" flowers are red to orange (April - July).

Claret-Cup - Lot 107

Claret Cup - Lot 14

Echinocereus viridiflorus - Green-Flowered Rainbow.  This Rainbow grows to heights of 3-10, usually in colonies.  The  flowers are small and their color ranges from greenish-yellow to orange or rust, occasionally pink.

Echinomastus intertextus - Chichuahua Pineapple Cactus.  This little cactus grows to a height of about 6".  As indicated by its name, it is pineapple shaped after it reaches about 3" in diameter.  The spines do not obscure the stem of the plant and appear to grow in a slow swirl up the stem.  The flowers are pink to white with a purple stripe in the middle.  It is an early blooming cactus, sometimes as early as February.

Escobaria vivipara - Bee Hive or New Mexico Pincushion Cactus.  This cylindrical, solitary or colonial Cactus grows to about 6" in height.  The spines are about 1" in length and arranged radially (white with black or red tips).  The magenta or purple to yellow flowers are about 1.25" (May - July).

*Ferocactus wislizenii - Barrel or Arizona Barrel Cactus.  This Barrel Cactus can exceed 8' in height.  Young Barrels are globular but elongate when the diameter exceeds about 1'.  The central spine of a cluster is dark red beneath with a gray surface.  This spine is especially long, wide, flattened, and crossed with ridges.  It terminates in a hook.  There are also a large number of white radial spines.  The flowers are orange-red or yellow (August - September).

Mammillaria heyderi - Cream Pincushion.  The Cream Pincushion grows above 3500'; however, folks at The Ranch might run across it so it is included herein.  It tends to grow flat but can become more rounded in the shade.  Spine clusters grow from the tips of tubercles.  It is the only cactus in the USA that has a milky sap.  A ring of pale yellow flowers appears in late Spring around the center-top of the cactus.

Mammillaria lasiacantha - Lacyspine Pincushion.  The Lacyspine Pincushion is a small, single stemmed cactus.  It grows to about the size of a golf ball (up to 2" diameter). The spines are white and number 40-80 per cluster.  The plant surface is obscured by interlaced spines.  The flowers grow from near the top of the plant and are white with a tan, brown or reddish mid-stripe.

Mammillaria microcarpa - Arizona Fishhook.  This Fishhook usually grows in the shade of trees or shrubs.  It occurs in colonies and grows to a height of about 6".  The spines are white and grow in dense radial clusters.  There is a central hooked spine that is dark red to black.  The pink flowers are relatively small (less than 2" diameter).

Mammillaria wrightii - Large-Fruited Fishhook.  The Large-Fruited Fishhook grows at higher elevations than here at The Ranch, at the upper limit of the desert.  Stems are generally single, dark green.  Raidal spines are fine and white or white with brown tips.  Central spines are hooked and dark colored.  The late Summer flowers are about 2" in diameter and deep violet to magenta.  .  

Nolina microcarpa - Sacahuista or Bear Grass Nolina.  The Sacahuista lacks a conspicuous stem and the leaves are relatively long at 4'.  The leaves split into fibers.  The small yellow flowers occur on a 3' stalk (May - June).  Used in Indian basket making.

Opuntia arbuscula - Pencil Cholla.  The Pencil Cholla resembles the Desert Christmas Cholla; however, the branches are not as thin in the Pencil Cholla.  The brances are deep green and rarely have tubercles.  There is usually one long spine on each areole.  In winter, the Pencil Cholla turns red or purple.  The flowers are yellow to orange and the fruit is green rather than bright red as in Klein's and the Christmas Chollas.

Opuntia engelmannii - Engelmann's Prickly-Pear.  Engelmann's Prickly-Pear is a common southwestern Prickly-Pear.  It has massive pads (up to 12" in length, blue-green, circular or oblong) which forms large trunkless mounds up to 5' in height and many feet in width.  The flowers are yellow (April - May) and the fruits are purplish-red and quite juicy.

*Opuntia imbricata - Tree Cholla.  The Tree Cholla is a large plant and can exceed 8' in height.  It resembles a Cane Cholla but the branches are much fatter and there are tubercles.  The spines are not as noticeable as those on the Cane Cholla.  The flowers are normally rose-violet.

Tree Cholla

*Opuntia leptocaulis - Desert Christmas Cactus.  The Desert Christmas Cactus grows to a height of about 4-6' and bears many slender, cylindrical branches.  The stem joints vary from about 5" to 16".  The green-yellow flowers are about 1" in size (May - June).

Christmas Cholla - Lot 119

Opuntia lindheimeri - Texas Prickly-Pear.  This tall Prickly-Pear can grove to over 5' in height.  The pads are almost as large as those in Engelmann's.  The Texas Prickly-Pear bars needle-lke, translucent yellow spines instead of flattened and chalky white as in Engelmann's.

Opuntia macrorhiza - Tuberous Prickly-Pear.  As the scientific and common names suggest, the Tuberous Prickly-Pear has a  large root.  This species is small and grows low to the ground.  The pad is sometimes bluish-green but usually dark green.  The flowers are yellow with red centers or sometimes entirely red.

Opuntia phaeacantha - Desert Prickly-Pear.  The Desert Prickly-Pear generally grows in colonies about 3' in height and 5' wide.  The oblong pads about 4-6".  The pads root easily and appear to grow by spreading in chains across the ground.  The 3" yellow to red flowers bloom from April to June.

*Opuntia polyacantha - Plains Prickly-Pear.  The Plains Prickly-Pear grows in low, 1' or less high colonies similar in size to the Desert Prickly-Pear; however, the stem joints are smaller, about 7".  The 2.5" flowers can be yellow, bronze, pink, or violet (May - July).  This is the most widespread of all cacti and can be found from Canada to Texas to Southern California.

Opuntia spinosior - Cane Cholla.  The Cane Cholla is a tall species, up to 8+' in height.  The trunk or trunks are thick tuberculate branches covered with grayish colored spines.  The flowers are deep red-violet but yellow, orange and even white flowers can be found.

Cane Cholla - Ranch House

Cane Cholla

Opuntia stanlyi - Devil Cholla.  The Devil Cholla differs from the other Cholla discussed above in that it is a low growing cacti that can form mats on the ground.  The flowers are lemon-yellow.

*Yucca baccata - Spanish Dagger or Banana Yucca.  The Banana Yucca is generally a stemless Yucca with multiple heads and leaves up to 30" in length that are blue-green and concave on the upper surface.  Occasionally, there is a short, creeping stem or they are clumped on the ground.  The flowers are brownish red on the outside and cream on the inside (April - July).  The flowers occur on a stalk about 24" in length and sweet 6" long fruits develop from these flowers.  

Yucca elata - Soap Tree Yucca.  The Soap Tree Yucca has a stem or stout trunk that can be branched or unbranched and can grow to 15' in height.  They are reminiscent of palm trees.  The leaves are about 24" in length and 1/2" wide and are flexible with fibers along the margins (May - July).  The 2" white flowers occur in clusters on stalks about 6' in length.

Yucca glauca - Small Soap Weed.  The Soap Weed Yucca is a small version of the Soap Tree Yucca.  It rarely exceeds 4' in height and has shorter leaves and flower stems than the Soap Tree. 

Yucca schottii - Schott Yucca.

Yucca torreyi - Torrey Yucca.  The Torrey Yucca is a large stemed Yucca, growing to about 12-15' in height.  Blooms appear in March - May on short stalks with creamy bell-shaped flowers, occasionally tinged with purple.


Bowers, J. E. 1993.  Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts.  Southwest Parks and Monuments Assoc., Tuscon, Arizona.

Dick-Peddie, W. A. 1993.  New Mexico Vegetation: Past Present and Future.  Univ. New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fischer, P. C. 1989.  70 Common Cacti of the Southwest.  Southwest Parks and Monuments Assoc., Tuscon, Arizona.

Phillips, J. 1998.  New Mexico Gardener's Guide.  Cool Springs Press, Franklin, Tennessee. 

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SKP Co-op Retreat of New Mexico, Inc.
P.O. Box 109
Lakewood, New Mexico 88254
Phone 575-457-2303 & FAX 575-457-2100
email: skpranch@pvtn.net