The Creepy Creeping Devil Cactus

Those of us who live in the Sonoran Desert are used to seeing the majestic saguaro, organ pipe and senita cacti, all columnar cacti reaching for the sky. The Creeping Devil cactus (Stenocereus eruca) is different. It is a columnar cactus, two to three inches in diameter and up to 10 feet long, that lies nearly horizontal to the ground.

Creeping devil cactus

The Creeping Devil is endemic to sandy soils of the central Pacific coast of Baja California. If you can’t travel to Baja, you can see this cactus in the main aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

ASDM describes the Creeping Devil as follows:

“This bizarre cactus migrates across the desert during its lifetime. The living sections of the very spiny stems are usually 5 to 10 feet long; they lie prostrate with only the terminal few inches raised above the surface. Stems root near the growing tips and older stem portions die and disintegrate, so the plants literally creep across the landscape over time. In some areas they occur as widely scattered individual stems; in favorable localities they form impenetrable patches of branching stems several yards across. Large, nocturnal white flowers are produced sparingly, probably in response to rain.”

Creeping Devils thrive in cool maritime climates where they grow up to two feet per year.
However, in the hot arid climate of the Desert Museum, they have been growing at only two feet per decade.

The cactus is covered with large, dagger-like spines and a set of smaller spines that cover the green stem. Walking among a thick patch is very difficult.

This cactus is capable of reproducing sexually, but because of its isolation and paucity of pollinators, it also reproduces by cloning. This is done when pieces detach themselves from the bases which die and rot. If you want to get into more detail, you can read “Clonal diversity and distribution in Stenocereus eruca (Cactaceae), a narrow endemic cactus of the Sonoran Desert. That study showed great diversity within populations of Creeping Devil which indicates that the cactus reproduces both sexually and by cloning.

See the Article Index page for more stories of the Sonoran Desert.

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3 comments

  1. Jonathon — Good job with this blog. I stumbled onto it following a link from the Alaska Miners Association. You have a number of pieces on objections to proposed mines (Florence, Santa Rita area, etc. It would be helpful if you had dates in some of these instead of writing “last week” etc. Best regards, Andy Nevin

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