Black Lace Cactus
Black Lace Cactus
Echinocereus reichenbachii var. albertii
|Listed||October 26, 1979|
|Description||Low-growing cactus with cylindrical stems and large pink flowers.|
|Habitat||Mesquite brush along streams in poorly drained soils.|
|Threats||Agricultural practices, livestock grazing, collectors.|
Black lace cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii (= melanocentrus) var. albertii, grows as a solitary stem or sometimes as a clump of 5 to 12 ribbed, cylindrical stems, each about 6 in (15 cm) tall. Each spine cluster is formed of 14 to 16 radial spines and crowned with a single, purple-tipped central spine. The common name for the species derives from the "lace-like" pattern of the spines over the stem. The pink to rose flowers, about 3 in (7.5 cm) in diameter, are showy and attractive.
The black lace cactus prefers poorly drained, sandy soils along stream beds on the Texas coastal plain. It tends to grow in slightly depressed areas that hold standing rainwater. Ground cover consists of mesquite and other scattered shrubs, interspersed with "islands" of hardy grasses and annuals. Colonies of the cactus are found in openings in the mesquite brush or in the midst of broom-weed and spiny aster stands with overhanging mesquite.
The black lace cactus genus ranges from western Kansas to northern Mexico. The albertii variety may once have been more widespread along the south Texas coast, but the exact extent is unknown. The species' discovery site in Jim Wells County, Texas, was nearly destroyed by bulldozing, and only four to 12 cacti remain there. Two populations known from Kleberg County were lost to agricultural use.
The black lace cactus has been found in three south Texas coastal counties: Jim Wells, Kleberg, and Refugio. Jim Wells County supports a population numbering about 16,000 plants. A large part of the Kleberg County population was destroyed by brush clearing sometime before 1986, but an estimated 13,000 cacti remain. The Refugio County population is transected by a road, and suffers from collecting and road maintenance. While it numbers more than 80,000 plants, many were in poor condition as recently as 1986, and the habitat area is currently leased for grazing and oil exploration. The Refugio County population borders the Welder Wildlife Foundation reserve, which works to discourage collecting of the cacti. These localities form a semicircle around two other counties (Nueces and San Patricio) where the cactus has not been discovered.
Biologists consider habitat loss and degradation the greatest threat to the cactus's survival. Much of the Texas coastal plain is cattle country, and it is common practice in the region to clear brush and undergrowth to plant coastal Bermuda grass for pastureland. This practice has partly or completely eliminated many known populations of the black lace cactus.
Because of the cactus's rarity and showy flowers, collectors also pose a threat. All three known populations are on private lands. Two of the three sites are not well-known and are fairly inaccessible. This gives the species some protection from casual collectors, but not from professionals.
Conservation and Recovery
Landowners need to be informed of the presence and significance of populations and asked to cooperate in recovery efforts. The Texas Nature Conservancy has already begun this dialogue, and one family has agreed to join the Conservancy's Land Steward Society.
The large number of seedlings found at population sites indicate that seeds germinate well in the wild. Seedlings from Jim Wells County have been transplanted to similar habitats, but the long-term fate of such transplants are unknown. Researchers need to know more about the plant's microhabitat requirements before transplantation can be considered as a practical recovery strategy. Propagation studies are currently underway to establish a nursery population.
Cloning is also being explored as a propagation method as a way to supply the commercial market. Tissue culture laboratories at Texas A & M University and the University of Texas have produced clones of a number of cactus species. While suitable for the commercial trade, these clones could not be used for reintroduction because of their lack of genetic diversity.
Jones, F. B. 1982. Flora of the Texas Coastal Bend. Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation, Sinton, Texas.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. "Black Lace Cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii var. albertii ) Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.
Weinger, D. 1984. Cacti of Texas and Neighboring States: A Field Guide. University of Texas Press, Austin.