Bakersfield cactus is a perennial, low-growing succulent with fleshy, flattened, green, beavertail-like pads that produce showy magenta flowers. The eyespots on the pads contain spines in addition to bristles. The species occurs on sandy soil on floodplains, ridges, bluffs and rolling hills in saltbush scrub plant communities, and occasionally in blue oak woodland orwoodland at elevations from 460 to 1,800 feet.
Bakersfield cactus is native to Kern County in the southern San Joaquin Valley, California, and historically grew as continuous populations throughout the valley. In 1987, the colonies could be divided into five general population areas: the oilfields northeast of Oildale, Kern River Bluffs, and rolling hills west and north of Caliente Creek east of Bakersfield, Comanche Point on the Tejon Ranch southeast of Arvin and northwest of the community of Wheeler Ridge. Now, it is only found in a limited area of central Kern County near Bakersfield. The remaining Bakersfield cactus populations can be grouped into 11 general areas with only four core areas containing populations of greater than 1,000 clumps. Urban sprawl and the conversion of native habitat into agriculture have left the remaining populations small and highly fragmented. About one-third of the historical populations of Bakersfield cactus are gone. Current population trends are unknown.
This species was listed as endangered on July 19, 1990.
The cactus continues to be threatened by:
- Climate change and extreme weather events
- Habitat loss and urban sprawl
- Habitat degradation
- Mining exploration
- Invasive non-native species, specifically grasses
- Off-road vehicle use
- Herbivory by pests, such as locusts
Bakersfield cactus grows in sandy soil on floodplains, ridges, bluffs and rolling hills. The soil is typically low in silt or clay and low in organic material. Bakersfield cactus is a characteristic species of the Sierra-Tehachapi saltbush scrub plant community but are also found in blue oak woodland andwoodland. Historical records indicate that the majority of Bakersfield cactus occurred at elevations ranging from 460 to 850 feet. The highest-elevation population is at 1,800 feet near Caliente and the lowest remaining is at 396 feet at Fuller Acres.
Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.
Arid land with usually sparse vegetation.
Environments influenced by humans in a less substantial way than cities. This can include agriculture, silvaculture, aquaculture, etc.
Like other beavertail cacti, Bakersfield cactus has fleshy green pads that can be rounded, heart-shaped or diamond-shaped to nearly cylindrical. A single plant may have hundreds of pads which grow both at ground level and from the tips of other pads. Clumps of Bakersfield cactus plants can grow up to 14 inches high and 33 feet across. The pads and fruits are dotted with eyespots which are rounded structures that contain barbed bristles and spines. Bakersfield cactus is different from other beavertail cacti, because it has spines in the eyespots. Tiny leaves are produced on the youngest pads of beavertail cacti but are shed quickly. Bakersfield cactus has showy magenta flowers. The dry fruits are the size and shape of small eggs and may contain grayish-white seeds.
Bakersfield cactus is a perennial. The life span of wild plants is not known but clumps have been known to live at least 48 years. Bakersfield cactus chiefly reproduce by fallen pads taking root, which they do easily when there is enough water. Bakersfield cactus doesn’t produce seeds often, and the warm, wet conditions seeds require to sprout aren’t common in the Bakersfield area. Bakersfield cactus typically flowers in May. Although its specific pollination biology hasn’t been studied, similar species need to be cross-pollinated with other individuals to grow seeds and many are pollinated by bees. One potential pollinator of Bakersfield cactus is the native solitary bee Diadasia australis caIifornica, a subspecies of chimney bee, which is found in Kern County and specializes in collecting pollen from Opuntia species.
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