Conservation of exceptional stands of the giant cardon cactus in Baja California Sur, Mexico
The giant cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) is the emblem of the Baja California peninsula. It is a majestic plant widely distributed over the entire peninsula and often occurring in dense stands. It is difficult to visit Baja California without being exposed to scenic views framed by this tree-shaped cactus. Because the peninsula is sparsely populated and many of its areas are remote and difficult to access, most populations of cardon have remained intact through five centuries of European settlement. The first description (1768) of cardon was by the founder of Mission San Javier, the Jesuit priest Miguel del Barco, near the town of Loreto.
At least two factors threaten populations of cardon in Baja California Sur. First, to establish and expand agricultural fields, entire stands are clearcut and bulldozed. Second is a phenomenon of cardon decline, whose exact cause is yet unknown (Bashan et al., 1995).
Because cardon is so widely distributed throughout the Baja California peninsula, it is not considered endangered. Yet, clearly there is a need to preserve some of the most magnificent stands for future generations. Because the combination of scenic beauty and remarkable specimens of cardons makes some sites particularly attractive, they deserve to be preserved as local, national, and international treasures.
We describe here four sites in Baja California Sur that we believe it is urgent to consider for preservation before irreversible damage causes their disappearance.