Fragrant Prickly-apple

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Fragrant Prickly-apple

Cereus eriophorus var.fragrans

ListedNovember 1, 1985
FamilyCactaceae (Cactus)
DescriptionColumn-shaped cactus with sprawling, cane-like stems.
HabitatSand dunes on ocean coast.
ThreatsShoreline development, low numbers, high winds.


Fragrant prickly-apple, Cereus eriophorus var. fragrans, is a columnar species of the cactus family. It has cane-like stems, measuring from 3 ft to as much as 16 ft (1-5 m). Stems sprawl over surrounding vegetation as they grow and use these plants for support. The cylindrical, succulent stems measure up to 2 in (5 cm) in diameter and bear numerous spines. The large white or pink flowers, which appear in May, are nocturnal and heavily scented. Orange-red fruits, about 2.5 in (6 cm) in length, grow from May to October.


Fragrant prickly-apple is found among sand dunes along the coast. It typically grows a distance back from the water behind sheltering dunes in stabilized sands where other sand-adapted plants have become established.


The fragrant prickly-apple was first collected in 1917 from sand dunes south of Ft. Pierce (St. Lucie County) and is considered endemic to Brevard, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties, Florida. A population documented near Malabar (Brevard County) was later extirpated. Two historic sites in Monroe County were recently searched for the plant without success.

Based on recent field surveys by Florida botanists, the only remaining population is found along a short stretch of beach dunes in St. Lucie County. During a 1984 survey, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service botanists found plants at only two of three sites that had been documented in 1980. An additional smaller grouping of plants was subsequently discovered nearby. All three groups of plants are within about 328 yd (300 m) of one another and probably constitute the remnant of a single biological population. Altogether, only 14 cacti were located.


The fragrant prickly-apple has declined significantly because of the residential and commercial development of beachfront property. The few surviving cacti could be severely damaged or eliminated by a single catastrophic event, such as a strong hurricane. Because of its fragile stems, sprawling nature, and dependence on supporting vegetation, fragrant prickly-apple is particularly vulnerable to damage from high winds. Often dune lots are cleared by bulldozing. In many cases, even when cacti were left standing as ornamentals, the removal of the natural buffer of surrounding vegetation resulted in eventual loss of the population.

Many species of cacti are commercially exploited, and it is likely that because of its rarity and beauty, this cactus would be collected if the specific location of remaining plants became widely known. Some past evidence of collecting has been noted at the St. Lucie County site.

Conservation and Recovery

The Florida Regional Comprehensive Plan sets policy for the protection of endangered species by local governments, requiring counties to examine the impact of zoning changes on rare plant species. This, completed in the late 1980s, helps preserve remaining habitat in St. Lucie County and provides sites where plants can be reintroduced. In the late 1980s, the state also acquired a tract of suitable habitat, containing several prickly-apple plants, for inclusion as a satellite of the Savannas State Reserve.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


Austin, D. F. 1984. "Resume of the Florida Taxa of Cereus (Cactaceae)." Florida Scientist 47(1):68-72.

Benson, L. 1982. The Cacti of the U.S. and Canada.Stanford University Press, Palo Alto.

Small, J. K. 1917. "The Tree Cactus of the FloridaKeys." Journal of the New York Botanical Garden 18:199-203.