Stenocereus thurberi

Common Name: organ pipe cactus
Family Name: Cactaceae
Botanical Name: Stenocereus thurberi
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Characteristics: The slow growing organ pipe is a large cactus that can grow up to 25 ft high and 8 in thick. It branches from the base of the plant (in tropical Mexico, the cacti reach up to 40-50 feet tall, with single or few trunks up to 2 feet wide). Its gray-green stems have 12-19 ribs that run the length of the stem. Areoles are set close together, with 14-19 brown-black spines up to 1 ½" that turn gray with age. Flowers up to 3" long are white in color and stay opened into the night. They produce 1 ½" wide red fruits that split when mature to reveal red flesh inside.
Life Form Description:
Compound: Ste thu
Geographic Origin: Northwestern Mexico
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Natural History: In Mexico, the plant is called pitayo dulce, meaning "sweet cactus" in reference to the edible fruit. The name steno means "narrow" and cereus, "torch-thistle," referring to the spiny and torch-shaped growth forms of these columnar cacti. This cactus is one of the largest in the US after the Saguaro. The organ pipe is sensitive to cold and is native to the tropical deciduous forests of Mexico and the Sonoran Desert. In Southwestern Arizona, it grows mainly around the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, but a few isolated individuals have been discovered growing naturally elsewhere in the state-- even north of Tucson. Its peculiar shape loosely resembles the clustered pipes of a pipe organ. "The abundant nectar, nocturnal bloom, and musky odor suggest bat pollination. In an artificial setting, both honey-bees and bats pollinated the flowers. The nectar-feeding bats Choeronycteris meicana and Leptonycteris sanborni are likely important pollinators" (Turner et al. 1995).
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Ethnobotany: Tohono O'Odham have harvested the fruits for centuries. Extremely sweet and juicy, the fruits have a flavor that is likened to watermelon. They can be prepared in many ways to make jams, fruit leather, syrups, juice and wine. The fruit can also be eaten plain, fresh or dried. The mashed seeds of the fruit produce an oily paste that can be used similarly to butter. The Seri used the cortex and pith of the dry cactus mixed with animal fat to make a tar-like caulking compound, often used on boats. Ribs from the organ pipe were used to make cooking utensils, torches, fuel, hunting shelters, and for the framework of various forms of houses (Felger and Moser 1991).