ENDANGERED SPECIES: Pima pineapple cactus

by Ricardo Small

Several transplanted Pima pineapple cacti are in the cactus garden at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center. This species was classified “endangered” almost 30 years ago (September 23, 1993). The yellow flowers are beautiful. Distribution in Arizona is limited to portions of Pima & Santa Cruz Counties. Its habitat is shrinking due to land development, climate change, invasive species (Lehman’s lovegrass) and reduced pollinator populations. 

A couple of months ago in January of 2021, I photographed the fifth of a five-day field survey looking for this endangered cactus that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducted on the Buenos Aires Refuge. Close to 20 volunteers and USFWS staff participated in this year’s event to help monitor the Pima pineapple cactus. No new cactus was observed during this year’s survey. The last time a new cactus was observed on the Refuge was in 2020. The known locations of individual cacti are monitored following fires, both planned burns and fires from other causes. 

Volunteers walk through dense Lehman’s lovegrass, an invasive,
that chokes out Pima pineapple cacti on January 8, 2021.

Pima pineapple cacti used to be found all over the Refuge grasslands in pockets where conditions were conducive to growth. These pockets shrunk or were eliminated, at least partly due to aggressive invasion by Lehman’s lovegrass.

You can read a report titled Recovery Plan for Pima pineapple cactus by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (August 2018) at the following link. It contains extensive information about this beautiful, rare cactus and ongoing actions for recovery.


The surveys for Pima pineapple cactus started in the early 2000s on the Refuge. Volunteers are an important component to complete annual activities like these surveys which are helpful to meeting the objectives of having a national wildlife refuge … protecting endangered species. You can join in by contacting the Friends of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge at this link: Volunteer – Friends of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (friendsofbanwr.com).

Ann Steffler, retired from the USFWS at Buenos Aires, contributed information for this article

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