Higo Chumbo

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Higo Chumbo

Harrisia portoricensis

ListedAugust 8, 1990
FamilyCactaceae (Cactus)
DescriptionSlender, spined, columnar cactus with night-blooming greenish white flowers.
HabitatDry forests.
ThreatsLimited range, feral pigs and goats, development.
RangePuerto Rico


A night-flowering cactus, higo chumbo (Harrisia (=Cereus) portoricensis ) produces funnel-shaped greenish white flowers. The cactus, which can grow up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall, is slender, usually 3 in (7.6 cm) in diameter, and upright. It generally has no branches. Higo chumbo has eight to eleven ribs that are separated by shallow grooves. Its 1-3-in spines (2.5-7.6-cm spines) appear in groups approximately 0.5-0.75 in (1.3-1.9 cm) apart. These spines are grayish white to brownish in color. The plant's fruita round, yellow, spineless berryis enclosed in a white pulp and is a favorite food of the endangered yellow-shouldered blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus ).


Higo chumbo is common in semi-open, xerophytic forests. The three islands on which the cactus is found (Mona, Monito, and Desecheo) are semiarid, with an average of only 32 in (81.3 cm) of rainfall a year. These islands are composed of carbonate rocks, stratified limestone, dolomite, reef rock, and boulder rubble. Some common associates of higo chumbo are Metopium toxiferum, Tabebuia heterophylla, Bursera simaruba, Euphorbia petiolaris, and Epidendrum brittonianum.


Once occurring on mainland Puerto Rico, the species has not been collected there since 1913 and is considered extirpated. The plant currently is restricted to three islands west of Puerto RicoMona, Monito, and Desecheoand is common in these areas. All of these islands are in the Mona Passage between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.


Favorable habitat conditions for the species once existed over most of southern and southwestern Puerto Rico. In fact, the Ponce area of Puerto Rico once offered this type location. However, all of these areas have been destroyed or altered by urban, industrial, or agricultural development. Mona Island, which currently supports most of the available habitat, has been proposed for development as a super-port, an oil storage facility, and a prison.

Feral pigs are another threat on Mona Island because they uproot the cactus while foraging for edible roots. On both Mona and Desecheo islands, feral goats forage on vegetation. This foraging may indirectly affect higo chumbo by modifying the vegetative composition of its habitat. The cactus moth has caused disease, infestation, and cactus die-offs in the past, but this threat has not been observed recently.

Conservation and Recovery

Mona, Monito, and Desecheo islands are all publicly owned. The government of Puerto Rico, through the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, owns and manages both Mona and Monito islands as wildlife preserves. Public access to Monito Island is restricted, but the public is permitted to visit Mona Island. During the hunting season on Mona Island, public hunting of pigs and goats is allowed. Desecheo is a wildlife refuge managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and public access is restricted.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345
(404) 679-4000

Boquerón Ecological Services Field Office
P.O. Box 491
Boquerón, Puerto Rico 00622-0491
Telephone: (787) 851-7297
Fax: (787) 851-7440


Ayensu, E., and R. A. DeFilipps. 1978. Endangered and Threatened Plants of the United States. Smithsonian Institution and World Wildlife Fund, Inc., Washington, D. C.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 8 August 1990. "De-termination of Threatened Status for the Plant Harrisia portoricensis (Higo chumbo)." Federal Register 55 (153).