Plant Profile: Simpson’s applecactus, Harrisia simpsonii

By Shelby Truesdell and Jodi Coia

Figure 1. Simpson’s applecactus.
Photo credit: Keith Bradley.
This post is one of a series from professor Nisse Goldberg's Plant Taxonomy students at Jacksonville University.

Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Plantae
Phylum: Tracheophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Cacataceae
Genus: Harrisia
Specific epithet: simpsonii  

Common Name: Simpson’s applecactus
Botanical Name: Harrisia simpsonii

Figure 2. Fruit of Simpson’s applecactus.
Photo credit: Greg Masoner.
Harrisia simpsonii is an endangered cactus that is endemic to Florida.  The cactus is found in Florida’s southernmost counties: Miami-Dade, Monroe Mainland, and the Monroe Keys. Simpson’s applecactus grows well in coastal hammocks and does best in soil pH of 6.1, to 7.8. The cactus can tolerate some amount of salt and brackish water because of its location near the coast and is tolerant of drought conditions.

Its fragrant white flowers and prickly fruit are both easy ways to identify the species (Figs. 1 and 2). The flower is white when it opens and appears pinkish on the outside when it closes. The narrow petals can be 5-8 inches long. Simpson’s applecactus gets its name from its fruit that is known as the prickly apple. The red fruit can be 2 inches wide with wooly spines covering its flesh (Fig. 2).

The flower is known as “Queen of the Night” because it only opens in the evening, closing up by dawn. During the night, moths, bats, and other insects are drawn to its sweet fragrance and are responsible for pollinating its flowers.

Judd Et Al. Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach. Third ed. Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, 2008. Pg  242. Print.

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Cassundry said…
Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea Florida had a native cactus this beautiful!
Gladly! There are many interesting cacti native to Florida - one of them, Pilosocereus polygonus, which is exclusive to the southernmost portion of the state, can grow to 30' tall.

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