Sclerocactus mesae-verdae (Mesa Verde Cactus)

Sclerocactus mesae-verdae (Mesa Verde Cactus)

Photograph by Robert Sivinski (2004)
Scientific Name with Author

Sclerocactus mesae-verdae (Boissevain ex Hill & Salisbury) L. Benson



Common Name
Mesa Verde Cactus
Rare Plant Conservation Scorecard Summary
Overall Conservation Status Documented Threats Actions Needed

Climate change/drought. Predation. Urban development. Off-road vehicle use. Oil & gas develoment. Powerlines & powerline maintenance. Road construction and maintenance.

Status surveys on abundance, distribution and threats (dust, rodents/rabbits, beetles, invasives), seed banking. Trend monitoring. Study threat impacts.

County Map

Stems usually solitary, depressed-globose to ovoid, 3.2-11.0 cm long, 3.8-8.0 cm in diameter; ribs 13-17; tubercles inconspicuous; areoles woolly; central spines absent or rarely 1, radial spines 7-13, straw-colored, spreading, 6-13 mm long; flowers yellowish-cream to pinkish, 1-3 cm wide, 1-3.5 cm long; fruit green, becoming tan at maturity, short cylindroid, 8-10 mm long, indehiscent; seeds black, 2.5-3 mm long, 3-4 mm wide. Flowers late April to May.

Similar Species

Sclerocactus parviflorus ssp. intermedius (eagle-claw cactus) can grow in the same habitat, but has strongly hooked central spines and pinkish-purple flowers.


New Mexico, San Juan County; Colorado, Montezuma County.


Sparsely vegetated low rolling clay hills formed from the Mancos or Fruitland shale formations at 1,500-1,700 m (4,900-5,500 ft). The soils are highly alkaline, gypsiferous, and have shrink-swell potentials that make them harsh sites for plant growth. Commonly associated plants include Atriplex corrugata (mat saltbush), A. confertifolia (shadscale), Frankenia jamesii (frankenia), and Opuntia polyacantha (prickly pear cactus).


Plants withdraw into the soil during dry periods; small plants may be completely hidden.

Conservation Considerations

Oil and gas development and , OHV impacts, trash dumping, grazing impacts, insect outbreaks, and invasive species all contribute to the documented decline of the species.This plant is very difficult to keep alive under cultivation because of its specialized soil requirements, so there are few commercial sources of plants. As a result, signs of limited collecting are periodically seen at the best known localities. Populations crashed rangewide in 2002/2003 in response to a drought related insect outbreak.  Populations did not recover by 2020.

Important Literature

*New Mexico Native Plants Protection Advisory Committee. 1984. A handbook of rare and endemic plants of New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

*Heil, K.D. and J.M. Porter. 1994. Sclerocactus (Cactaceae): A revision. Haseltonia 2:20-46.

Roth, D. 2020.  Monitoring report, Mesa Verde cactus (Sclerocactus mesae-verdae). 1986-2020. Unpublished  report prepared by the EMNRD-Forestry Division, for the USFWS, Region 2.

Roth, D. 2020. Status report. Mesa Verde cactus (Sclerocactus mesae-verdae). BLM Hogback ACEC, Waterflow, NM. Unpublished  report prepared by the EMNRD-Forestry Division, for the USFWS, Region 2.

*U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1984. Mesa Verde cactus (Sclerocactus mesae-verdae) recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Information Compiled By
Charlie McDonald 1999; last updated 2021

For distribution maps and more information, visit Natural Heritage New Mexico