Nellie's cory cactus

Distribution map of Nellie's cory cactus

Distribution

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Distribution map of Nellie's cory cactus (Escobaria minima ).

Scientific Name
Escobaria minima
Other Scientific Names
Coryphantha minima, Mammillaria nellieae, Coryphantha nellieae, Escobaria nellieae
Other Common Names
Nellie cory cactus, dwarf cory cactus, least cory cactus, birdfoot cactus
Status
Federally and State Endangered
Global Rank
G1
State Rank
S1

Global Location

Nellie’s cory cactus is only found in a small area of Brewster County in West Texas.

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Description

Nellie's cory cactus is a succulent perennial that occasionally branches and grows to 4 cm tall. The stems are covered in spine-tipped, cone-shaped projections. Unlike most cacti which have needle-like spines, the spines of Nellie’s cory cactus are stout, blunt, and almost peg-like. The spines are so numerous and dense that the stem is completely hidden. Most of the spines (radial spines) form a tight ring around the projection’s tip, point out from the center (like the spokes of a bicycle wheel) and are pressed tightly against the stem. Other spines (central spines) arise interior to the radial spines and point somewhat out from the center. Although at times hard to spot among the 13-24, 3-5 mm long radial spines, the 1-4 central spines extend 4-8 mm and are grouped in the upper part of the spine cluster. The bright pick to fuchsia flowers of Nellie’s cory cactus have a forked, green, staff-like female structure (a stigma), which protrudes centrally from the floral cup. The green fruits are dry at maturity and 1.5-7 mm long. The egg-shaped seeds are very dark brown or black.

The diminutive Nellie's cory cactus has peg-like spines, forked green stigmas, pink flowers, and occurs in a novaculite habitat.

The diminutive Nellie's cory cactus has peg-like spines, forked green stigmas, pink flowers, and occurs in a novaculite habitat.

Credit: Dale and Marian Zimmerman

The spines of Nellie's cory cactus are stout, blunt, and almost peg-like. The 13-24 generally shorter radial spines (22 in the illustration) are tightly clustered and pressed against the stem. The 1-4 longer central spines (3 in the illustration) arise interior to the radial spines and are grouped in the upper part of the cluster.

The spines of Nellie's cory cactus are stout, blunt, and almost peg-like. The 13-24 generally shorter radial spines (22 in the illustration) are tightly clustered and pressed against the stem. The 1-4 longer central spines (3 in the illustration) arise interior to the radial spines and are grouped in the upper part of the cluster.

Credit: Patrick Stark - Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

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Similar Species

Although the combination of short stature, stout peg-like spines, and chert- or flint-like rock (novaculite) habitat is not seen in any other cacti in Texas, Nellie’s cory cactus most resembles Hester’s pincushion cactus (Escobaria hesteri). However, Hester’s pincushion cactus is taller with needle-like spines and dark brown seeds. Also, the stigmas of Hester’s pincushion cactus are white to cream to pale pink.

Hester's pincushion cactus has needle-like spines and pale pink stigmas (although white and cream stigmas are also common).

Hester's pincushion cactus has needle-like spines and pale pink stigmas (although white and cream stigmas are also common).

Credit: Jackie Poole - Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

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Floral Characters

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Leaf Characters

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Habitat

Nellie’s cory cactus occurs on exposed areas of chert- or flint-like rock (novaculite) and sometimes in spikemoss mats in Chihuahuan Desert shrublands.

Nellie’s cory cactus habitat.

Nellie’s cory cactus habitat.

Credit: Jackie Poole - Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.

Life Cycle Events

Flowering occurs March to June and is followed in the next month by fruiting.

Survey Season

Although a perennial and visible year-round, Nellie’s cory cactus is most visible while in flower March to June.

Comments

Like many cacti, Nellie’s cory cactus is prone to collection in the wild, although this threat has been alleviated by the increased popularity of cultivated specimens. While Nellie’s cory cactus is the smallest cactus in North America, in cultivation, it often achieves a much larger size.