The 4 Illegal Cacti (Plus 7 Endangered Ones!)

There are nearly 2000 species of cacti, many of which have been collected and grown for ornamental purposes for hundreds of years. As fascinating as they are, however, some species are endangered and may be illegal to grow at home. To help you shop safely and be a responsible cactus owner, it’s crucial to identify these cacti!

There are 11 cacti species that are illegal to grow at home and are endangered:

  1. Blind cactus
  2. Bunny ears cactus
  3. Peyote
  4. San Pedro cactus
  5. Acuña cactus
  6. Bakersfield cactus
  7. Black lace cactus
  8. Key tree cactus
  9. Nichol’s Turk’s head cactus
  10. Pima pineapple
  11. Sand dollar cactus

You might be wondering why on Earth would it be prohibited to cultivate certain species of cacti. It’s a prickly subject, but this article should help shine some light on the topic.

1. Blind Cactus (Opuntia rufida)

The blind cactus is a fast-growing species with painful hairs or glochids. It is a threat to humans and the environment so it is illegal to own or sell in Australia.

Like most other Opuntia, this cactus is armed with more than just spines.

The blind cactus has painful bristles that detach easily and can cause eye irritation or even blindness if it is blown in the eye.

It can look very similar to the bunny ears cactus, except this one can be identified by its red glochids and areoles or circular bumps.

Being native to Mexico, it is considered invasive in Queensland and New South Wales. In these areas, it is deemed illegal to keep, sell or plant blind cacti. If you’re in the US though, it should be safe to cultivate Opuntia cacti.

2. Bunny Ear Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)

Bunny ear cacti can spread aggressively and are considered a threat to natural Australian ecosystems, making it forbidden to sell or cultivate in Australia.

As cute as it looks, the bunny ear cactus is considered an invasive weed and a danger to native flora and fauna. This is because it has very shallow roots that allow it to spread easily in various terrains.

Opuntia cacti will only grow taproots that are 5 inches (12.7 cm) long.

>> Learn why in Do Cactus Roots Grow Deep? (The 3 Reasons Why They Don’t!)

Bunny Ear Cactus
Michele sisto (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Opuntia Microdasys Flowers

Bunny ear cactus pads also tend to propagate easily. But since they’re covered in glochids, very few hungry animals can readily eat them to keep their growth in check.

Understandably, this makes it forbidden to keep, grow, sell, or release this species in Australia.

3. Peyote (Lophophora williamsii)

Peyote is a hallucinogenic cactus so it is illegal to transport or sell this species in Australia. However, some territories such as New South Wales allow it to be cultivated for decoration. This cactus is also becoming an endangered species.

[Quote] Research the laws of your local area before buying any non-native species of cactus.

You’ve probably heard of this one. This spineless species contains mescaline, a powerful alkaloid that can be used as a psychedelic substance.

Peyote Cactus
eLJot (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Lophophora Williamsii Flower

Currently, it is illegal to sell and transport these cacti in Australia, but they can be grown for ornamental purposes in some territories like New South Wales.

The legalities vary wildly from country to country, so you should check on it before purchasing a peyote cactus. Surprisingly, it is usually acceptable to cultivate this cactus for ornamental purposes in America, UK, and Canada.

Unfortunately, peyote cacti are often illegally taken from the wild and are terribly slow-growing, taking several years and even a decade to fully mature and recover.

Mature peyote is especially ideal for poachers, as the older specimens are believed to contain a higher content of hallucinogens. This constant poaching makes it extremely difficult for the peyote cactus to restore its population.

4. San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi)

San Pedro cacti have mescaline, a psychoactive compound, and are illegal to sell and transport in Australia. However, some territories will allow it to be cultivated for ornamental use.

Another cactus that contains mescaline is the San Pedro cactus. Unlike the low-growing peyote though, this specimen is a columnar cactus.

Luckily, it has a faster growth rate and is not in danger of being overharvested, unlike the peyote.

San Pedro Cactus
Leto Adam (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Echinopsis Pachanoi Cacti

To my knowledge, it is legal to grow this cactus in the US and in some territories of Australia so long as it is for decorative purposes only.

However, it’s best to double-check with local authorities to make sure it’s safe and legal to grow this in your area.

7 Rare Cacti Species

The 8 rare cacti species include 1) acuña cactus, 2) Bakersfield cactus, 3) black lace cactus, 4) Key tree cactus, 5) Nichol’s Turk’s head, 6) peyote, 7) pima pineapple, and 8) the sand dollar cactus.

It’s sad to say, but many cacti have been federally enlisted as endangered. Because of this, they can be difficult to obtain and possibly even forbidden to own due to their dwindling populations and the constant threat of overharvesting and illegal poaching.

Let’s go over some of these cacti to help you be aware moving forward.

1. Acuña Cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis)

The acuña cactus is an endangered species due to habitat loss and mining activities. Furthermore, it is difficult to cultivate and is best left alone to grow in the wild.

Conservation Status: Endangered

Acuna cacti are unfortunately facing habitat loss. They tend to grow on limestone substrates in Arizona, which is rapidly disappearing due to heavy mining.

This species is also ridiculously challenging to cultivate at home, almost always dying to root rot.

The acuña cactus is grown with very few reports of success, so it is often advised to simply leave this species alone in its native habitat where its populations can hopefully be restored.

2. Bakersfield Cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei)

The Bakersfield cactus is an endangered species native to California. It is mainly threatened by human and urban activities. Destroying or possessing this cactus can be illegal in some areas, such as California.

Conservation Status: Endangered

The current population of Bakersfield cacti is unknown, but urban development is one of the main threats reducing its numbers drastically.

This species is also called the beavertail prickly pear thanks to its resemblance to a beaver tail.

Bakersfield Cactus
Mary_T (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Opuntia Basilaris var. Treleasei Flowers

It may look unique, however, it’s best to check in with your local state or county to be completely certain it is not prohibited to own or grow this endangered species at home, especially in California.

3. Black Lace Cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii var. albertii)

Populations of the black lace cactus are slowly dropping as a result of habitat loss. It is endemic to Texas, where it is considered an endangered and protected plant.

Conservation Status: Endangered

With less than 4000 plants in the wild, this cactus is federally listed as an endangered species in the United States.

Black Lace Cactus
Monica astorri (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Echinocereus Reichenbachii var. Albertii Cacti

It can be identified by its dainty-looking spines that form in a lace-like pattern. Additionally, it only grows about 6 inches tall, making it easy—albeit painful—to destroy by accident.

4. Key Tree Cactus (Pilosocereus robinii)

The Key tree cactus is an endangered tree-like cactus with multiple branches that are easily destroyed by hurricanes. Urban development also makes it difficult for it to propagate, further reducing its numbers.

Conservation Status: Endangered

Formerly known as Pilosocereus polygonus, the Key tree cactus was aptly named as it is native to the Florida Keys, a small archipelago in the US.

Like many other endangered cacti, it is most impacted by habitat loss and urban development.

Violent hurricanes are another considerable threat to this plant, destroying many of its branches and stems.

Luckily, many organizations, such as the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), are working to conserve this endangered cactus.

5. Nichol’s Turk’s Head (Echinocactus horizon-thalonius var. nicholii)

Nichol’s Turk’s Head cacti are endemic to the Sonoran desert, where they are frequently damaged by off-road driving and mining activities. Its primary threat is illegal poaching when poachers steal the plant to sell as a flowering cactus.

Conservation Status: Endangered

This barrel cactus blooms such beautiful bright pink flowers that it is often illegally harvested from its native environment in the Sonoran Desert.

Some of the many threats it faces include quarrying and habitat loss. It is also frequently destroyed by off-road vehicles that veer off their designated roads.

[quote] Unfortunately though, since Nichol’s Turk’s head cactus’s main threat is illegal poaching, it’s best to be wary of buying this species from unverified sources.

6. Pima Pineapple (Coryphantha scheeri var. robustispina)

Pima pineapples are scarce and endangered cacti as a consequence of climate change. Invasive weeds also contribute to the degradation of their natural habitat, further reducing their population.

Conservation Status: Endangered

The Pima pineapple cactus was aptly named due to its pineapple-shaped stem covered with spines. Combined with its green-gray stems, it is incredibly attractive, no doubt.

However, this species is slowly suffering from habitat loss and is struggling with climate change and new exotic plants, like the Lehmann lovegrass, an invasive weed in the US.

Many other Coryphantha cacti are also listed as endangered, such as the bunched cory cactus (Coryphantha ramillosa) and Lee pincushion cactus (Coryphantha sneedii var. leei).

7. Sand Dollar Cactus (Astrophytum asterias)

The sand dollar cactus, also known as the sea urchin cactus, is becoming a rare and endangered species. This is primarily due to overharvesting and illegal poaching, however, habitat loss is another considerable threat.

Conservation Status: Threatened

The sand dollar cactus is sometimes referred to as a peyote cactus due to its similar spine-less appearance, however, they do not share any genes.

Typically, sand dollar cacti can be identified by the white specks and circular tufts of harmless hair on their stems.

Due to its rising popularity, it is sadly suffering from illegal harvesting in Texas and Mexico. It’s also incredibly slow-growing, making it difficult to recover.

If you hope to buy a sand dollar cactus or any of the previously mentioned specimens, it’s best to look into your region’s regulations and work with verified sellers.

As always, things can change with time, and we may be lucky enough to see these endangered cacti flourish in their natural habitats again!


Can you take cactus from the wild?

Harvesting wild cacti from public land is harmful to its species, as many cacti can take years to recover. Furthermore, it can be penalized if it is done without a permit in states like Arizona and should not be common practice.

What cacti are illegal in Canada and the UK?

In Canada, it is prohibited to sell, keep, or transport any mescaline-containing cacti such as the San Pedro cacti. However, there are no restrictions on the peyote cactus. Meanwhile, in the UK, growing mescaline-containing cacti is acceptable, provided they are not consumed as a hallucinogen.

Summary of Prohibited and Endangered Cacti Species

Unfortunately, it is forbidden to cultivate some cacti species like the blind cactus, bunny ears cactus, peyote, and San Pedro cactus. Doing so is illegal in Australia but is typically accepted for ornamental purposes in the UK, Canada, and the US. This is because these cacti can spread aggressively or have high amounts of mescaline, a psychoactive alkaline.

Some cacti are endangered and can be considered protected species, such as the acuña cactus, Bakersfield cactus, black lace cactus, Key tree cactus, Nichol’s Turk’s head cactus, peyote, pima pineapple, and the sand dollar cactus. Look into local laws of owning such cacti before purchasing them as they may have been collected illegally.


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