Opuntia corallicola - (Small) Backeberg
Florida Semaphore Cactus
Synonym(s): Consolea corallicola Small
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.128380
Element Code: PDCAC0D2X0
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Cactus Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Caryophyllales Cactaceae Opuntia
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Concept Reference Code: B99KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Opuntia corallicola
Taxonomic Comments: Formerly included in Opuntia spinosissima by Kartesz (1994 Checklist); now recognized as distinct, with O. spinosissima excluded from the range (Kartesz 1999). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses the name Consolea corallicola for this species in the June 2002 Candidate Notice of Review.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 27Dec2005
Global Status Last Changed: 01Nov1999
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: One natural, one apparently introduced, and one recently planted population of this Florida-endemic cactus are known from the Florida Keys. Opuntia corallicola is found on bare rocks with only a slight covering of humus in hardwood hammocks near sea level. Substrate material in this area is almost entirely Key Largo limestone with some sand. The remaining populations occur near sea level in a transitional zone between mangrove and hardwood hammock habitats. Both sites are on protected land (private, federal), however, one population is composed entirely of male plants, in this obligate outcrossing species. Threats include: non-native species (especially a cactus-eating moth), large hurricanes, and small population size. Sea level rise is also a longer-term threat to these plants and their habitat.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Florida (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (24Oct2013)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: A Florida endemic known only from a few sites in the Florida Keys (Monroe County). This cactus was first discovered on Big Pine Key in 1919 (Small, 1930), and subsequently on Key Largo. It was considered well established at both of these sites. The species was not discovered on Little Torch Key until 1965; it was probably introduced there from stock that was originally removed from wild populations and cultivated in nurseries (Avery, 1963; Austin, 1980). The disappearance from Big Pine Key is probably a result of road construction and over-collected by nurserymen and amateur horticulturists (Avery, 1963). A second extant population was discovered in November, 2002, on Swan Key, with as many as 570 individuals. This population has an unknown trend. This population is unlikely to be the result of transplants. This new population is 145 km from Little Torch Key.

Area of Occupancy: 1-125 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Known only from two small sites, with the larger population extending along about 0.5 km (0.3 mi) along the shore (USFWS, 2004).

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: There are two populations of this species. There are several unconfirmed reports of additional individual plants on private property. In addition, pads of this cactus have been planted on North Key Largo in an attempt to establish another populaton (USFWS, 2004).

Population Size Comments: This plant is clonal and several small 'pups' are associated with larger, older 'trunked' individuals. Population size depends on what is conisdered an individual. Genetic studies suggest that there are few genetic individuals in one population (<5). The other population has 570 plants with trunks, up to 200 more without trunks, with a genetic analysis funded as of 15Mar03.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very few (1-3)
Viability/Integrity Comments: One population (Swan Key) shows good reproduction, while the other (and much smaller) population (Little Torch Key) is effectively male only, with apparently just one compatibility gene (USFWS, 2004); these plants persist by clonal growth, but do not produce viable seed.

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Opuntia corallicola is an extremely rare species, and therefore vulnerable to stochastic losses, especially at its smaller population. However, its ability to root from vegetative parts gives it some flexibility for recovery, especially after hurricanes (USFWS, 2004). The greatest immediate threat is the non-native invasive moth species Cactoblastis cactorum. The moth is being studied by USDA scientists as the range in the US expands and begins to affect other Opunita spp. The species occupies a relatively rare habitat over a narrow range at low elevation (1-2 ft msl), which also makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and sea-level rise. In addition, the population at one site is functionally male and does not reproduce sexually. Ongoing pressures from collecting and from development, which threatened the species in the latter half of the 20th century, are now nearly eliminated.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Since there are only two populations an evaluation of the health of a population is conditional. In one population, there are only nine plants left (although at its maximum only 16 plants have been seen on site, not all at the same time) and these plants reproduce soley by vegetative progeny. Dispersal beyond this site is not expected as the majority of progeny fall within 100 m of the parent plant. Given that, this population has not been significantly reduced over the past 12 years, in large part because of extensive management and monitoring (on a weekly basis, The Nature Conservancy) of the individual plants. Therefore it is most likely stable to slight decline. The population on Little Torch Key is considered to be in a state of decline. Williams (pers. comm., 1989) noted that over the past one year one of "the most beautiful and largest has been butchered by a collector." Plants in the newly discovered (Swan Key) population are generally a smaller size (shorter, fewer pads), less flowering and an equal or greater number of presumed vegetative progeny (could be 100s per individual plant). This new, much larger population was discovered in November, 2002; no trends can be predicted yet.

Long-term Trend: Decline of 50-70%
Long-term Trend Comments: This species is unlikely to ever have been very common, but there is evidence (herbaria) that it was once more common than it currently is (extinct populations on Big Pine Key, Key Largo), with one natural, one apparently non-natural, and one recently planted population remaining. Both mature extant populations of this species occur at or near mean sea level. The non-native moth, Cactoblastis cactorum is known to feed on the plant (and is the direct cause of one plants' death), and sexual reproduction has not been observed. Hurricanes also threaten the species, although Hurricane Georges passed directly over the Little Torch population with no significant damage. Human-caused reduction is now a remote threat due to management methods and remoteness of locations. Intrinsic vulnerability is the most likey dominant long-term threat.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: The breeding system is complex, with one population being effectively male-only, while the other is reproducing.

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements scarce.
Environmental Specificity Comments: Reintroduction attempts for this species have failed, citing factors including faulty site choice (too shady, too light). The species currently occurs in a narrow ecotone near sea level between salt tolerant communities (salt marsh/mangrove) and hammock (fire-intolerant) communities. This ecotone is now rare because of development.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: A Florida endemic known only from a few sites in the Florida Keys (Monroe County). This cactus was first discovered on Big Pine Key in 1919 (Small, 1930), and subsequently on Key Largo. It was considered well established at both of these sites. The species was not discovered on Little Torch Key until 1965; it was probably introduced there from stock that was originally removed from wild populations and cultivated in nurseries (Avery, 1963; Austin, 1980). The disappearance from Big Pine Key is probably a result of road construction and over-collected by nurserymen and amateur horticulturists (Avery, 1963). A second extant population was discovered in November, 2002, on Swan Key, with as many as 570 individuals. This population has an unknown trend. This population is unlikely to be the result of transplants. This new population is 145 km from Little Torch Key.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States FL

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
FL Miami-Dade (12086), Monroe (12087)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Florida Bay-Florida Keys (03090203)+, Florida Southeast Coast (03090206)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: An erect, trunk-forming cactus.
Ecology Comments: The Litte Torch Key population consists of eight individual plants none of which seem to have produced viable fruit (Williams, pers. comm., 1989). The flowers tend to drop off shortly after peak bloom is reached and these blooms occasionally take root beneath the parent plant (Avery, 1963; Williams, pers. comm., 1989). This type of vegetative reproduction is also mentioned by Small (1930) who suggests that the lack of proper ovary development is a result of not having been pollinated. In this same report, however, Small does mention that fruits have been observed and he describes the seeds from them. It is possible that the pollinators of the plant were present when the plant was better represented in the wild, but when the plants were extirpated the pollinators may have been effectively eliminated from the area. Species specific pollinators are not common in the Cactaceae, but they do occur (Grant and Hurd, 1979). It is also possible that the presence of a diversity of pollinators in past years was affecting more frequent pollination than now occurs. Research in this area is critical if anything more than clones are to be preserved. The population now extant on Little Torch Key, in all probability, originated from wild stock of the Keys population and thus is of the same gene pool.
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Bare rock/talus/scree, Forest - Hardwood, Forest/Woodland
Habitat Comments: Small (1930) reported that in Florida the plants occur on bare rocks with only a slight covering of humus in hardwood hammocks near sea level. Substrate material in this area of the Keys is almost entirely Key Largo limestone with some sand. The single remaining Florida population occurs in a transitional zone between mangrove and hardwood hammock habitats (Williams, pers. comm., 1989), and the most common associate species include: Sporobolus virginicus (L.) Kunth., Conocarpus erectus L., Maytenus phyllanthoides Benth., Manilkara bahamensis (Baker) Lam. & Meeuse, Hippomane mancinella L., Opuntia stricta var. dillenii (Ker-Gawl.) L. Bens.
Economic Attributes
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Economically Important Genus: Y
Management Summary
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Stewardship Overview: One (particular) population of Opuntia corallicola should be physically protected from human encroachment immediately. Individuals with field experience in pollination systems should be consulted and a research project should be designed and initiated immediately.
Restoration Potential: No work in population biology or phenology has been done on this taxa (not in Florida or Jamaica), and thus no conclusions about its potential reestablishment can be drawn.
Management Requirements: Outright physical protection of the element is the first and most important step in protecting the species from complete extirpation in Florida. This natural community in general, does not need active management other than protection.

Management of the tract should begin with construction of a substantial fence to keep humans out of the population.

Monitoring Requirements: Monitoring of this species is critical to its survival.
Monitoring Programs: Because there is but a single population [in the United States], the species must be carefully monitored on a regular basis. A monitoring plan has been developed for the population to measure plant height, main trunk height, number of branches, numbers of pods, flowering, seedlings and branch spread. The plants have been photographed and drawn.
Management Research Programs: Propagation efforts are being pursued by the Center for Plant Conservation at Fairchild Tropical Garden with material from Florida.
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 17Mar2003
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Fellows, M. (2003), rev. L. Morse (2005)
Management Information Edition Date: 30Apr1990
Management Information Edition Author: PETER W. ALCORN

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Adams, C. D. 1972. Flowering plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies. Mona, Jamaica. 848 pp.

  • Anderson, E. F. 2001. The Cactus Family. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. 760 pp.

  • Austin, D.F. 1980b. Status report of Optunia spinosissima. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Office, Region 4, Atlanta, GA.

  • Barnhart, J.H. 1935. Chronicle of the Cacti of Eastern North America. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden 36 (421): 1-11.

  • Benson, L. 1982. The Cacti of the United States and Canada. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 1044 pp.

  • Bradley, K. A. and S. W. Woodmansee. 2002. A significant new population of the rare semaphore pricklypear cactus, Opuntia corallicola (Cactaceae). SIDA 20(2):809-811.

  • Britton, N.L. and J.N. Rose, 1963. The Cactaceae. Dover Publications, Inc. New York.

  • Densmore, D. 1986. Memo from the Caribbean Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Office.

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2003b. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Vol. 4, Magnoliophyta: Caryophyllidae, part 1. Oxford University Press, New York. 559 pp.

  • Gann, G.D., K.A. Bradley, S.W. Woodmansee. 2002. Rare Plants of South Florida: Their History, Conservation, and Restoration. The Institute for Regional Conservation, Miami, FL. 1056 pgs.

  • Grant, V., and P.D. Hurd. 1979. Pollination of the Southwestern Opuntias. Plant Systematics and Evolution 133: 15-28.

  • Howard, R.A. 1982. Optunia species in the Lesser Antilles. Cactus and Succulent Journal (US) 54: 170-179.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Miller, P. 1768. The Gardener's Dictionary, ed. 8 London.

  • Proctor, G.R. 1984. Flora of the Cayman Islands. Kew Bulletin Additional Series XI. London.

  • Small, J.K. 1930. Concolea corallicola, Florida Semiphore Cactus. Addisonia 15: 25-26.

  • Small, J.K. Cacti. Journal of the New York Botanical Garden 28: 221-226.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2003. DRAFT Candidate and Listing Priority Assignment Form: Consolea corallicola. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Program.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2004. Species assessment and listing priority assignment form. Consolea corallicola. 9 pp.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2012. Endangered species status for Cape Sable thoroughwort, Florida semaphore cactus, and aboriginal prickly-apple, and designation of critical habitat for Cape Sable thoroughwort. Federal Register 77(197): 61836-61894.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Determination of Endangered Status for Chromolaena frustrata (Cape Sable Thoroughwort), Consolea corallicola (Florida Semaphore Cactus), and Harrisia aboriginum (Aboriginal Prickly-Apple). Federal Register 78(206): 63796-63821.

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