Britton & Rose
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum (commonly known as hairbrush or Indian comb) is a columnar cactus tree native to Mexico. The plant is leafless and can grow up to 15 meters high. The trunk of this species is 1.2 to 5 meters tall and the fruits are large and burlike. The species name, pecten-aboriginum, is from the Latin, and means "native combs". It was inspired by the use of the fruits as hair combs.
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is endemic to Mexico. Its range extends throughout the western states from Baja California to Chiapas. It grows in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts, the thorn forest of Sinaloa, and the southern Sonoran plains.
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is found on slopes and plains, and in valleys and arroyos. Its habitat includes thornscrubs, tropical deciduous forests, and Sonoran desert scrub. It grows on flat land and on hills and in canyons. It is abundant in the subtropical scrub of southern Sonora, particularly in the foothills and lower mountains.
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is a tree up to 15 meters tall. The erect or ascending branches are up to 25 centimeters in diameter. The immature stems are up to 22 centimeters wide with 10 or 11 ribs. Mature stems are up to 17.5 centimeters wide with 10 to 12 ribs. The areoles bear rigid, sharp, white to gray spines which may be curved on mature stems.
The flower is white and about 5 to 7.5 centimeters 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-attenuate tips covering the development of flower buds. Flowering occurs in January through March.
The fruit is densely covered with long, golden yellow spines up to 6 centimeters 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 half a centimeter long.
Pachycereus 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.
The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked, and can be made into a syrup or preserves like jam. It has been used to make wine. The Mayo people made tortillas from the ground seeds mixed with some corn meal flour. This so-called etcho-seed flour was used in breakfast foods such as pancakes.
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.
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 one centimeter in length.
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- 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 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". Journal of Arid Environments 56 (1): 117–127.
- Kay, M. A. (1996). Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.