Lee Pincushion Cactus

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Lee Pincushion Cactus

Coryphantha sneedii var.leei

ListedOctober 25, 1979
FamilyCactaceae (Cactus)
DescriptionPincushion cactus, forming tight clumps of club-shaped stems and bearing brownish pink flowers.
HabitatChihuahuan Desert; semi-desert grasslands in hard limestone soils.
ThreatsLimited numbers, collectors, grazing deer.
RangeNew Mexico


The Lee pincushion cactus, Coryphantha sneedii var. leei, forms tight clumps of as many as 100 stubby, club-shaped stems, 0.6-7.5 in (1.5-7.5 cm) tall and 0.4-1.2 in (1-3 cm) in diameter. Stems are densely covered with white spines, giving each plant the appearance of a mass of white-spined balls. Pink-tipped central spines are clustered six to 17 per areole; radial spines are clustered 35-90 per areole.

Ample winter and spring moisture is important for budding, which begins in late March or early April. With favorable weather, flowers are produced in a few weeks and generally last no more than four days. Most Lee cacti bloom only after three or four years. Dull, brownish pink flowers are about 0.5 in (1.2 cm) long and do not open widely. Fruits form from August to November.

This species is known by two other scientific names: Escobaria leei and Mammillaria leei.


This cactus grows in cracks and crevices of limestone within semi-desert grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert. It is restricted to north-facing ledges of the Tansil limestone formation. These limestones are generally resistant to erosion and support a sparse covering of low shrubs, perennials, cacti, and herbs. The elevation is between 3,900 and 4,900 ft (1,200 and 1,500 m) and the annual rainfall is about 11.8 in (30 cm).


Lee pincushion cactus is probably endemic to the rugged uplands of extreme southeastern New Mexico. It is found at two locations in Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Eddy County), New Mexico. Until 1994, it was known at only one location, which, in the early 1980s, had population estimates of between 1,000 and 2,000 and appeared to have stabilized. A new population of the plant was found in the early 1990s in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The discovery was made during planning efforts for a prescribed burn.


This cactus has always been rare and has further declined at the hands of collectors. It is assumed, as well, that browsing deer crop seedlings, limiting plant reproduction.

Conservation and Recovery

Because this cactus's only known natural habitat is within the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the primary recovery goal is to protect the two known populations from park visitors and from trampling and grazing. Fencing some portions of the habitat may be necessary. Collecting within the park is strictly prohibited, and enforcement has been tightened.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103


Castetter, E. F., and P. Pierce. 1966. "Escobaria leei Bodeker Rediscovered in New Mexico." Madrono 5:137-140.

Heil, K. D., and S. Brack. 1985. "The Cacti of Carlsbad Caverns National Park."Cactus and Succulent Journal (U.S.) 57:127.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1986. "Sneed and Lee Pincushion Cacti (Coryphantha sneedii var. sneedii and Coryphantha sneedii var. leei ) Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. "Endangered and Threatened Species of Arizona and New Mexico (with 1988 Addendum)." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1979. "Determination of Lee Pincushion Cacti (Coryphantha sneedii var. leei ) as an Endangered Species." Federal Register 44: 61556.