Sacramento Mountains Thistle

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Sacramento Mountains Thistle

Cirsium vinaceum

ListedJune 16, 1987
FamilyCompositae (Asteraceae)
DescriptionTall, purple-stemmed perennial with purple flowers.
HabitatMineral deposits around mountain springs.
ThreatsWater diversion, competition with introduced plants, habitat disturbance.
RangeNew Mexico


Sacramento Mountains thistle, Cirsium vinaceum, is a perennial herb, growing 3.3-6.6 ft (1-2 m) tall, with many-branched purple stems. Leaves may be 20 in (50 cm) long and are characterized by deep, narrow and spiny lobes. Lobes at the leaf tips have short yellow spines. Many small purple flowers, which bloom from July to September, are clustered in a nodding head.


Sacramento Mountains thistle is found on slopes of calcium carbonate deposits that are built up around flowing mineral springs and seeps, and in adjacent wetlands. These wetlands are found within mixed pine and oak woodlands at an elevation of 7,800-8,820 ft (2,400-2,700 m). Associated plants are ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, New Mexico locust, and Gambel's oak.


This thistle was once widely dispersed along streams, springs, and seeps throughout the middle elevations of the Sacramento Mountains (Otero County), New Mexico.

In 1987, when the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the Sacramento Mountains thistle was a threatened species, there were 20 known population areas with an estimated 10,000-15,000 sexually reproducing individuals, in the Lincoln National Forest, on the Mescalero Indian Reservation, and on private lands. By 1993, when the species recovery plan was published, some 62 sites (mostly subdivisions of the original 20 populations) on a total of 77 acres (31.2 hectares) of suitable habitat, had been documented. Three additional sites occur on Mescalero Apache land. One site is on private property.

Of the 58 sites located in the Lincoln National Forest, the U. S. Forest Service estimated in 1990 that at least 49,000 plants were growing on a total of 66 acres (26.7 hectares). Since this plant is capable of adventitious reproduction by root sprouting, the Forest Service density estimate of individual plants was derived from the total of rosettes divided by four. Therefore, a total of 196,000 rosettes (juvenile and mature) were counted during the 1990 inventory. Populations that have been closely monitored appear to be somewhat stable in terms of mortality and recruitment.


The Sacramento Mountains thistle has declined because its spring and seep habitat has been heavily exploited for watering livestock. Enclosures have been built around springs and pipelines built to channel water to drinkers for the livestock, reducing water flow and altering streambank and wet meadow habitats. One unauthorized 1,900-ft (579.1 m) pipeline and cement water collection box was constructed along a stream in 1985, destroying a portion of one population. Livestock have also trampled plants at several locations.

Conservation and Recovery

Many sites where this thistle formerly grew still provide suitable habitat for the plant. Removing exotic plants, limiting artificial impoundment of springs, and restricting the access of livestock will alleviate much of the immediate danger to the Sacramento Mountains thistle. The Forest Service has fenced several areas to exclude livestock.

The FWS 1993 recovery plan for the species has the goal of delisting the Sacramento Mountains thistle by 2001. The major actions needed to achieve this goal include the development and implementation of a policy for spring development on Lincoln National Forest and the acquisition of water rights to springs if instreamflow legislation is passed in New Mexico. The recovery plan also calls for the implementation of livestock management practices to protect plants and their associated off-spring and riparian habitats; the implementation of logging practices that minimize indirect hydrologic and erosional effects on the habitat; impact studies of exotic plant competitors and biological controls; and long-term monitoring to evaluate management effectiveness. Genetic studies, new population surveys, recreation activity management, public education and law enforcement are among the other suggested actions deemed important for recovering the species.

Delisting criteria, according to the recovery plan, include the acquisition of water rights for the sole purpose of protecting at least 30% of the occupied spring habitats; development and implementation of management plans to encourage growth for at least 75% of the known occupied habitat; and the establishment of a 10-year monitoring and research program to demonstrate the effectiveness of the management plan.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P. O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-1306
Telephone: (505) 248-6911
Fax: (505) 248-6915


Fletcher, R. 1978. "Status Report on Cirsium vinaceum." U.S. Forest Service, Albuquerque.

Martin, W. C., and C. R. Hutchins. 1980. A Flora of New Mexico. J. Cramer, 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. 1993. "Sacramento Mountains Thistle Recovery Plan." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.