Ferocactus hamatacanthus is know locally as a Fishhook Barrel Cactus because of the shape of the curved spines. It is one of the largest native cactus we have locally and many times grows in groups of 2 or more. They will bloom a vibrant yellow flower during the monsoon summer, mostly later than the other cactus species. They usually put off a cluster of blooms and have the ability to bloom more than once if the conditions are wet enough. Sweet redish fruits favored by desert critters follow the flowers.
Their habitat includes a wide range in the Trans-Pecos but they are not extremely common. You may find one growing in a crevice of rock but may not find another in the same area. They don’t distinguish between volcanic or limestone soils though. The other large west Texas barrel cactus, Ferocactus wislizeni is a similar species but this is not it’s native range so should only be found in landscapes. Propagation by seed would be worth the effort as these cactus are not very abundant. Transplanting the smaller members of a group is possible as well.
The Ethics of Wild Harvesting
Wild harvesting of plants to propagate and use personally can be accomplished in a legal and sustainable manner. It is legal in some cases to forage seeds, berries, leaves, cones or mushrooms for personal use from public lands such as any land administered by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife or the lands designated as Parques Nacionales in Mexico but you should first contact the respective park service to ask specifics and or obtain permits.
–Do not collect plants or plant parts from public lands without the proper procedures in place.
–Never collect endangered, protected or sensitive species even on your own property.
–Do not enter private lands for any purpose if you do not have permission to do so.
–Harvest first from areas that will be disturbed by development.
–Make sure you know your plant and can make a positive identification.
–Never harvest the first plant you see, find the healthiest population that does not appear to have been harvested.
–Never take more than ten percent or more than you need
–Always ask the plant if it wants to go with you first. Yes, really.
–Fill holes, spread the seeds of collected plants and return to the area later to monitor the effects of your harvest.
Due Diligence When Buying Plants Online
You will likely find some of these species for sale if you do a quick internet search. While there are many reputable sellers out there, unfortunately the plant trade can be quite a profitable endeavor for bad actors. There are laws that prevent harvesting of natural resources from public lands but poachers can often hide from law enforcement. On private lands, the practice of wild harvesting all of the plants in an area, leaving none to support future generations is not entirely illegal. International sales are difficult to monitor. Desert plants are especially vulnerable because they tend to be slow growers and may be marked as rare or exotic species, factors which influence higher prices.
You should know where the plants you buy come from and how they were grown or harvested. Speak with the seller, a reputable seller will be able to provide you with an origin story. Avoiding wild harvested species all together is certainly an option but wild harvesting can also be accomplished sustainably. Ask the seller to explain to you their wild harvesting practices. You can also look for plants labeled field grown, seed grown, or propagated from cutting to be sure the plants were propagated ethically. As a consumer, you have more power to influence sustainable practices than any other agency on the planet.
Attribution & Citation
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Powell, A.M., Powell, S.A, & Weedin, J.F. (2008) Cacti of Texas a Field Guide. Texas Tech University Press.