Opuntia phaeacantha var. wootonii (Griffiths) L. Benson


Family: Cactaceae

Synonyms: Opuntia wootonii Griffiths; Opuntia engelmannii Salm-Dyck var. wootonii (Griffiths) Fosberg

Discussion: The situation with this plant is very similar to that of Opuntia valida. The plant is known from a smaller area, but it is moderately common in those areas (perhaps a few thousands of plants- t a guess). Again there are two varieties. One having gone unrecognized and unassociated with the typical variety, has probably added to several workers confusion with Opuntias. The typical (long-spined) plant is nearly endemic to New Mexico. It occurs on the west slope of the Organ Mountains and on Tortugas Mountain. It should also be looked for on the San Andreas. I have seen a few specimens in the Franklins (three in Texas), but where I have looked it has been only one individual per locality. I have not seen it on the east side of the Organs, but cannot rule out its existence there. The short-spined variety brevispina, differs from the typical variety in having fewer short spines. It occurs in the Sacramento (T.L. Lincoln), Guadalupe, and south slope of the Capitan Mountains, and enters Texas in the Guadalupes. It occurs in sporadic colonies of up to a dozen individuals throughout these mountains. Both of these Opuntia need thorough surveying to know just how many and where they are. Environmental studies rarely take into account species of Opuntia, largely because of lack of interest, and due to the problems in figuring out just what they are. The numbers given above for both species are based largely on memory (except at Tortugas), and incorporate a large margin of error. Both are grown as ornamentals, but neither is threatened by this activity, as they are propagated primarily by cuttings under cultivation.

There is an interesting complication to both of these Opuntia species. In the Hualapai Mountains of Mojave County, Arizona is a healthy population of plants which L. Benson confused with O. superbospina (a quite different plant of the O. phaeacantha alliance). The plants are nearly identical to O. valida, but average smaller with a few other minor differences. This population may be described as a third variety after more field study. L. Benson confused this plant with O. superbospina, which is a quite different plant. On the west slope of the Manzanos (many plants), in the hills just west of Socorro (perhaps 10 plants), and in the Tres Hermanos (number unknown, only one found) are plants which are very similar to O. wootonii, but with very different coloration, and slightly different spination. These were found several years ago while in search of populations of O. valida. They need further study, and may be described as a third variety of O. wootonii once reproductive organs have been thoroughly studied and the populations are better understood.

Disjunct populations like the one in the Hualapais are always of interest. I have found that populations of Opuntia often turn up in unexpected places. A few cases in point: Opuntia macrocentra occurs on some hillsides near Oklahoma City and Opuntia pottsii turned up in Missouri and in Wisconsin. Opuntia sanguinicula from central Texas turned up in west central Chihuahua and at Wilcox, Arizona. Each of these disjuncts looks distinctly different from their main population, but is clearly the same species. In other instances I have been able to gradually fill in the geographic blanks in between disjuncts, but not with these.

Information Compiled By: Dave Ferguson