Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spanish Cactus Names

Names of Cactus in Spanish

Fred Allebach 9/23/99, ed. 2/21/03

This is from a letter I wrote to Jim Engelmann, grandson of the man who named the Engelmann prickly pear and the Engelmann spruce, etc. Jim had a great cactus garden in Tucson of which he gave me many great cuttings. Jim also gave us advice one time on a construction job of how to move saguaros, and his famous phrase “ you have to soak the taproot, all night”.  I got all this information from books at the University of Sonora library, and they have some old books! Other information was collected from the Centro Ecológico in Hermosillo, and personal contacts on the coast and in the Sierra in Sonora.

Conflicting Mexican-Spanish plant names are part of an ongoing academic struggle to accurately match the plant scientific names with an English equivalent. Some taxonomic names may be old and outdated

Interesting factoids: in 1565, Mathiolus named the genus Opuntia, believing that the plants originated in Opuno, a place in the high Andes mountains. Linnaeus named cactus, from the Greek “kaktos”, a spiny plant.  The Genus name Cereus comes from a Greek word cereanae,  meaning “torch”. The plant rosemary is romero in Spanish, meaning pilgrim. The plant Suaeda ramosissima is called sosa in Spanish, how bout that Sammy Sosa !?

Pitaya, pitahaya, etc. means fruit in regional, northern Mexican Spanish. Tuna also means fruit when referring to cactus fruit, especially the tuna of prickly pear and cholla. Tuna fish is spelled atún.

Genus/ species                                    Mexican Spanish name

Lemairocereus thurberii                      pitahaya/ pitayero ( the -ero ending, when concerning plants, typically describes a tree, a naranja is an orange and a naranjero is an orange tree, there are different races of organ pipes, possibly up to 7, one with fruit having hard, big spines and a tough skin and another with spines easy to remove and a soft skin, apparently there has been hybridization and the development of distinct types)

Lemairocereus thuberii var. littoralis  (known only from coastal bluffs in southern Baja)
                                                            litoral means “coastal”, see your Latin

Cereus thurberii                                  pitahaya/ pitayero (is this same as Lemairocereus thurberii?)

Cereus variabilis                                  pitahaya, this could describe some of the organ pipe hybrids

Kemairocereus thurberii                      pitahaya dulce/ mauta (some people also call organ pipe “pitahaya dulce”, dulce means sweet)

Stenocereus weberii                            órgano/ cardón de la Mixteca (huge!)
(Pachycereus weberii)

Stenocereus pruinosus                        pitayos de mayo (cactus fruits of May)
Stenocereus treleasei                           like an organ pipe

Stenocereus marginatus                       órgano, like a skinny saguaro/ organ pipe

Cereus peruvianus                              cardón

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum         etcho/ cardón?

Cereus candelabrus                             cardón?

Machaerocereus gummosus                pitahaya agria (you gave me a cutting,  from Tiburón Island, I saw lots of them out there as well as in certain places on the mainland coast of Sonora)

Neubuxbaumia tetetzco                      tetetcha (looks exactly like a saguaro but  lives in the valley of Tehuacán, south central México, the fruits are not red)

Pachycereus pringlei                           ectho/ sahueso, these are cool, they are like half saguaro, half organ pipe/ senita, pronounced “etch-o”

Escontria chiotilla                               like an etcho, but with less ribs, fruits are called “quiotillas”

Lophocereus schotti                           senita/ sina (sen is same root as senior, senator, etc., it means old, experienced, for example, señor)

L. schotti var. astralis                         branches taller, more slender

L. schotti forma  monstrosus              totem pole, var. gracile and robust

Lophopcereus gatesii                          grows in Baja             

Cephalocereus senilis                          viejito (little old man)

Agave shreveii, A. palmeri                  lechugilla, they make a variety of tequila called bacanora from this agave, agaves are succulents and also are stalk flowering plants

Agave pacifica                         bacanora (a type of tequila is made from bacanora in Sonora, it is called Bacanora, it’s pretty popular and easy to get, sold in liter soda bottles, kind of like white lightning in the southern USA, home made hard liguor)

Agave schottii                         amol, or “shin daggers”

Dasylirion wheeleri                             sotol, or desert spoon, this is a kind of yucca, which are also stalk flowering

Yucca arizonica                                   yuca, genus includes the soap tree yucca and the Joshua tree

Fouquieria macdougalli                       ocotillo macho (tree ocotillo), boojum etc., 7 species from the Fouquieria genus

Opuntia                                               nopal, all prickly pear are types of “nopal”, the fruits are called tuna or tunas, in plural

Opuntia tunicata                                 huichacame

Opuntia fulgida                                   velas de coyote (coyote candles), coyote is an Aztec word, other Aztecismos or Aztecisms in English, are tomato and chocolate

Ferrocactus                                         biznaga/ visnaga, (comes from two different root words in Nahuátl, the Aztec language, “huitztli” means spine and “nahuac” means surrounded by, the Spanish adapted this to “biznaga”


  1. What is the english name for a cactus call Alicoche in spanish and another one called Pichelinga. Don't know if I spelled them correctly in spanish.


  2. What is the english name for a cactus called Alicoche in spanish and another one called Pichelinga. I don't know if the spelling is correct.