Sacramento Prickly Poppy

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Sacramento Prickly Poppy

Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta

ListedAugust 24, 1989
FamilyPapaveraceae (Poppy)
DescriptionPerennial with prickly branches; long, narrow leaves; pale yellow latex; white flowers.
HabitatCanyon slopes and bottoms, disturbed areas.
ThreatsLivestock grazing, flash floods, water diversion, road maintenance.
RangeNew Mexico


Sacramento prickly poppy is a perennial with three to 12 prickly stems that branch from the base and grow to a height of 20-60 in (0.5-1.5 m). The attractive flowers have white petals that are 1.2-1.6 in (3-4 cm) in length and width and have numerous yellow stamens. The long, narrow leaves have box-shaped sinuses between their spine-tipped lobes. Like many members of the poppy family, Sacramento prickly poppy has a latex, or sap. The pale yellow to milky white color of the latex distinguishes it from Argemone pleicantha ssp. pleicantha, which has yellow-orange latex. It was first collected in 1953 and described in 1958.


This species is found only in canyons in the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico (Otero County). It grows at elevations of 4,200-7,100 ft (1,300-2,000 m) in limestone canyons, fields, slopes, floodplain and channel deposits, and on roadsides. It prefers relatively moist, but not wet, locations and is most often found on north-facing slopes, canyon bottoms, roadsides, and near leaks in water pipelines.


Sacramento prickly poppy was first collected on the western slopes of the Sacramento Mountains. It is known from nowhere else.

The species is currently find in about 10 canyons in the Sacramento Mountains. Populations occur in the Lincoln National Forest, Oliver Lee State Park, on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on New Mexico and Otero County highway rights-of-way, and on private land. Surveys in 1987 and 1988 recorded about 1,300 plants, three-quarters of which were found in the Alamo Canyon System of the Lincoln National Forest. Only two other canyons contained more than 100 plants. The San Andreas Canyon on BLM land supports only 12 plants.


The main threats to the species are livestock grazing, flash flooding, and the diversion of water supplies. Livestock grazing has a double effect on the Sacramento prickly poppy. Younger plants are eaten or trampled and the ability of mature plants to reproduce is diminished. Overgrazing also disturbs the topsoil and reduces the overall plant cover; this, in turn, increases the probability of flash flooding. In 1978, a flash flood almost completely destroyed one canyon population of a hundred plants.

Another threat is pipeline diversion of spring outflow for human and livestock use. This produces artificially dry conditions that will not support the species. The construction of a pipeline in one canyon was probably responsible for the largest reduction in Sacramento prickly poppy numbers. Plants that occur on highway rights-of-way are also vulnerable to mowing and the application of herbicides.

Conservation and Recovery

The Fish and Wildlife Service published a Recovery Plan for the Sacramento prickly poppy in 1994. The rare plant only occurs in 10 populations in individual canyons. About 80% of the critical habitats are in the Lincoln National Forest, owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The species also occurs on lands owned by the BLM. These publicly owned habitats should be protected from threatening human influences. Other critical habitats are on private land and are potentially threatened by various activities. This habitat should be protected by acquiring the land and designating ecological reserves, or by negotiating conservation easements with the landowners. The populations of the Sacramento prickly poppy should be monitored, and research undertaken into its biology, habitat needs, and beneficial management practices.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servive Office of the Regional Director
P.O. Box 1306
500 Gold Avenue S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-3118
Telephone: (505) 248-6282
Fax: (505) 248-6845


Hutchens, C. R. 1974. A Flora of the White Mountain Area, Southern Lincoln and Northern Otero Counties. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Malaby, S. 1987. "Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta Survey." U.S. Forest Service, Albuquerque.

Malaby, S. 1988. "Report on Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta. " U.S. Forest Service, Albuquerque.

Soreng, R. J. 1982. "Status Report on Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.

Soreng, R.. J. 1986. "Fresnal Canyon Preserve for Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta." The Nature Conservancy, Albuquerque.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Sacramento prickly poppy (Argemone pleiacantha ssp. pinnatisecta ) Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Sacramento Prickly Poppy

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