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Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cactus Around Las Vegas, Vegetation Around Las Vegas
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

General: Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) looks like a cross between a Hedgehog Cactus and a Barrel Cactus. Individual stems look like barrel cactus, but they grow in clumps like hedgehogs. The stems grow to about 12-inches in diameter and about 15-inches tall, and they have ribs (flutes) running from bottom to top. The stems are loosely covered with relatively long, stout, flattened spines like those on barrel cactus. Flowers grow from the top of the stems, and the fruits are covered in soft, woolly hairs. Clumps grow to about 3-ft in diameter and height.

Cottontop Cactus are generally uncommon, but they can be locally common components of the desert vegetation community. Cottontops occur in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone (Mojave Desert Scrub). A good place to see this species is along the Mormon Well Road in the Desert National Wildlife Range, a few miles east of Corn Creek Station.

Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop flower

Family: Cactus (Cactaceae).

Other Names: woolly cactus, woolly-headed cactus, many-headed barrel cactus.

Plant Form: Clumps of upright, short, globular stems that emerge from the ground. Stems ribbed, with spines growing from the top of the ridges.

Height: Stems 12- to 15-inches tall, 12-inches in diameter; clumps to 3-ft high and 3-ft wide.

Trunk: None.

Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop flower and cotton

Leaves: None (reduced to spines).

Flowers: Small, yellow; blooms in late spring to early summer.

Fruit: Oblong, 2.5-inches long, densely woolly.

Seeds: Black, 1/8-inch long.

Habitat: Rocky bajadas and outcrops.

Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
A single Cottontop Cactus fruit

Distribution: Found in southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, and northwestern Arizona.

Elevation: 1,000 to 5,000 ft.

Comments: Birds and small mammals us the fluff on Cottontop Cactus fruits for nesting material.

This species can be told from California Barrel Cactus by the presence or absence of wool. Cottontop Cactus have some wool on the top of the stem and on the fruits, while California Barrel Cactus does not have wool. In addition, Cottontop Cactus forms clumps, while barrel cactus almost always are solitary. Furthermore, the flowers and fruits of Cottontop Cactus emerge from the tips of the stems, while those of California Barrel Cactus form a broad ring around the top of the stem.

Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

Cottontop fruits
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop fruits
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop fruits pulled out by an animal
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)
Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus) Cottontop Cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate. Names generally follow the USDA database.
copyright; Last updated 170705

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