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Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Eudicots
Cladus: Core eudicots
Ordo: Caryophyllales

Familia: Cactaceae
Subfamilia: Cactoideae
Tribus: Echinocereeae
Genus: Pachycereus
Species: Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum Britton & Rose, Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 12: 422 (1909).

Cereus pecten-aboriginum Engelm., Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts 21: 429 (1886).

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum subsp. tehuantepecanus (T.MacDoug. & Bravo) P.V.Heath, Calyx 2(3): 107 (1992).
Pachycereus tehuantepecanus T.MacDoug. & Bravo, Cact. Suc. Mex. 1: 64, fig. 43–48 (1956).

Native distribution areas:

Continental: Northern America
Regional: Mexico
Mexico Central, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest

References: Brummitt, R.K. 2001. TDWG – World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions, 2nd Edition
Primary references

Britton, N.L. & Rose, J.N. 1909. Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 12: 422.

Additional references

Korotkova, N., Aquino, D., Arias, S., Eggli, U., Franck, A. , Gómez-Hinostrosa, C., Guerrero, P.C., Hernández, H.M., Kohlbecker, A., Köhler, M., Luther, K., Majure, L.C., Müller, A., Metzing, D., Nyffeler, R., Sánchez, D., Schlumpberger, B. & Berendsohn, W.G. 2021. Cactaceae at Caryophyllales. org–a dynamic online species-level taxonomic backbone for the family. Willdenowia 51(2): 251–270. DOI: 10.3372/wi.51.51208 Open access Reference page.


Korotkova, N. et al. 2021. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum in Cactaceae at A global synthesis of species diversity in the angiosperm order Caryophyllales. Published online. Accessed: 2021 Dec 18. Reference page.
Govaerts, R. et al. 2021. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum in Kew Science Plants of the World online. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published online. Accessed: 2021 Dec 18. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. 2021. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum. Published online. Accessed: Dec 18 2021. 2021. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum. Missouri Botanical Garden. Published online. Accessed: 18 Dec 2021.
Hassler, M. 2021. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum. World Plants: Synonymic Checklists of the Vascular Plants of the World In: Roskovh, Y., Abucay, L., Orrell, T., Nicolson, D., Bailly, N., Kirk, P., Bourgoin, T., DeWalt, R.E., Decock, W., De Wever, A., Nieukerken, E. van, Zarucchi, J. & Penev, L., eds. 2021. Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life. Published online. Accessed: 2021 Dec 18. Reference page.
LLIFLE - Encyclopedia of living forms 2013-2016. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum in LLIFLE. Published on internet. Accessed: 2016 Mar 19.

Vernacular names
English: hair brush cactus, Indian comb, aborigine's comb
español: Etcho, Hecho

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum (commonly known as hairbrush or Indian comb) is a columnar cactus plant native to Mexico. They can grow up to 15 m (49 ft) high. The trunk of this species is 1.2 to 5.0 m tall and the fruits are large and burr-like. The specific name, pecten-aboriginum, is from the Latin, and means "native combs". It was inspired by the use of the fruits as hair combs.[3]


P. pecten-aboriginum is endemic to Mexico.[4] Its range extends throughout the western states from Baja California to Chiapas.[4] It grows in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts, the thorn forest of Sinaloa, and the southern Sonoran plains.[3]

P. pecten-aboriginum is found on slopes and plains, and in valleys and arroyos. Its habitat includes thornscrubs, tropical deciduous forests, and Sonoran desert scrub.[5] It grows on flat land and hills and in canyons.[6] It is abundant in the subtropical scrub of southern Sonora, particularly in the foothills and lower mountains.[5]

P. pecten-aboriginum is a tree up to 15 m tall. The erect or ascending branches are up to 25 cm (9.8 in) in diameter. The immature stems are up to 22 cm wide with 10 or 11 ribs. Mature stems are up to 17.5 cm wide with 10 to 12 ribs. The areoles bear rigid, sharp, white to gray spines, which may be curved on mature stems.[5][7]

The flower is white and about 5.0 to 7.5 cm long. It opens in the evening and closes by midday. The ovary is coated in velvety brown hairs. The floral bracts are linear with long-attenuated tips covering the development of flower buds. Flowering occurs January through March.

The fruit is densely covered with long, golden yellow spines up to 6 cm long. It ripens by June and July. It splits at maturity to reveal a thin layer of firm, red, juicy pulp and shiny black seeds, each about 0.5 cm long.[5][7]

P. pecten-aboriginum is a diploid plant. Its floral biology differs across its range. In Tehuacán, it is pollinated at night by nectar-feeding bats. In the Sonoran desert, the flowers stay open longer in the day to attract both nocturnal and diurnal pollinators.[8]

The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be made into a syrup or preserves or jam. It has been used to make wine. The Mayo people made tortillas from the ground seeds mixed with some corn meal. This so-called etcho-seed flour was used in breakfast foods such as pancakes.[5][7]

The Mayo used the cactus as an herbal remedy. Pieces of the flesh were applied to wounds to inhibit bleeding. The cactus flesh was cooked in salted water and the solution was applied to infected wounds three times daily, followed by a sulfathiazole powder. The juice was consumed as an herbal tonic and to treat sore throat.[9]

The fruits were used as combs by indigenous peoples. To make a hairbrush, the spines were removed from about two-thirds of the fruit, and the remaining spines were trimmed to about 1 cm in length.[7]
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum.

Under its accepted name of Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum (from its basionym, Cereus pecten-aboriginum) this species was published in Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 12(10): 422. 1909. "Name - Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum Britton & Rose". Tropicos. Saint Louis, Missouri: Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
The basionym of P. pecten-aboriginum (Cereus pecten-aboriginum) was originally described and published in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 21: 429–430. 1886. "Name - Cereus pecten-aboriginum Engelm. ex S.Watson". Tropicos. Saint Louis, Missouri: Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
Shreve, S. and I. L. Wiggins (1964). Vegetation and Flora of the Sonoran Desert. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Arreola, H., et al. 2013. Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. Downloaded on 26 August 2013.
Felger, R. S.; et al. (2001). The Trees of Sonora, Mexico. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Britton, N. L. and J. N. Rose (1920). The Cactaceae. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C: Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Turner, R. M.; et al. (2005). Sonoran Desert Plants: An Ecological Atlas. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
Molina-Freaner, F.; et al. (January 2004). "Pollination biology of the columnar cactus Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum in north-western México" (PDF). Journal of Arid Environments. 56 (1): 117–127. doi:10.1016/s0140-1963(02)00323-3.
Kay, M. A. (1996). Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

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