Centro De Investigaciones Biologicas del Noroeste: Cardon
Some facts about cardon cactus

The cardon is one of the most massive of all cacti. 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). Adult cardon is adapted to the harsh climate of Baja California, characterized by drought and high temperatures, but as a seedling and juvenile it depends for survival on nurse plants, such as mesquite (Prosopis articulata) (Carrillo-García et al., 1999). In alluvial soils in southern Baja California, the cardons, and other cacti, occupy an extensive area.

Majestic Cardon
Majestic cardon plant, the emblem of the Baja California peninsula. Note woman at base for size scale.


Some outstanding environmental features of cardon cactus:

  • The giant cardon stands out as possessing characteristics desirable for the stabilization of disturbed arid soils; a wide-spread, finally branched, shallow root system capable of responding to rare rainfall episodes by rapid regrowth (Bashan et al., 1999; Bravo-Hollis, 1978; Nobel, 1996).
  • The highly nutritious and succulent fruits of the cardon (Valencia et al., 1985), available in abundance during the desert dry season when other food sources are scarce, are a major source of nutrients to many desert birds and lesser long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris curasoae). The latter are the major pollinators of the night-blooming flowers of cardon and depend on them for survival (Tuttle,1991).

Return to Cardon entry page

Comments re this page: Dr. Yoav Bashan
Design & production: Larry Miller
Version: February 2005