Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican Giant Cardon or Elephant Cactus, is a species of cactus that is native to northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora. It is commonly known as Cardón, a name derived from the Spanish word cardo, meaning "thistle."
Large stands of these magnificent cactus still exist, but many have been destroyed as land has been cleared for cultivation in Sonora.
The fruit of this cactus was an important food for the Seri people in Sonora, who call the cactus xaasj.
The flesh of this cactus contains alkaloids, and may have been used as a psychoactive plant in Mexico.
A symbiotic relationship with bacterial and fungal colonies on its roots allows P. pringlei to grow on bare rock even where there is no soil available at all, as the bacteria can fix nitrogen from the air and break down the rock to produce nutrients. The cactus even packages symbiotic bacteria in with its seeds.
Cardon is the tallest cactus species in the world, with a maximum recorded height of 19.2 m (63 ft), with a stout trunk up to 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter bearing several erect branches. In overall appearance, it resembles the related saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), but differs in the following:
fewer ribs on the stems
more heavily branched
branching occurs nearer the base of the stem
areoles and spination differ
the location of the blossoms, lower along the stem
fruit heavily spiny
Flowers white, large, nocturnal, appear along the ribs as opposed to only apices of the stems.
Average Lifespan and Growth
An average mature cardon may reach a height of ten meters, but individuals as tall as eighteen meters are known (León de la Luz and Valiente 1994). It is a slow growing plant (Roberts, 1989) with a life span measured in hundreds of years, but growth can be significantly enhanced in its initial stages by inoculation with plant growth-promoting bacteria such as Azospirillum sp. (Bashan et al., 1999; Carrillo et al., 2000; Puente and Bashan, 1993). Most adult cardon have several side branches that may be as massive as the trunk. The resulting tree may attain a weight of 25 tons (Gibson and Nobel, 1986).
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