California barrel cactus is native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, growing in various rocky and gravelly habitats. Younger specimens have redder spines and a more rounded stem, while older specimens have grayish spines and a cylindrical stem that typically grows to about five feet tall, sometimes taller.
Weird fact: this species is known to grow somewhat faster on its shaded side, so that older plants lean toward the southwest, which explains the common names “compass cactus” and “compass barrel”.
Although the IUCN* Red List categorizes California barrel cactus under “least concern”, some sources claim that the species is vulnerable to poaching by collectors.
I found this and many more specimens of California barrel cactus mostly in the flat plains near Borrego Springs, rather than on the slopes of canyons.
Fishhook cactus, aka strawberry cactus, has a small range that includes San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties as well as Baja California and Sonora states in Mexico; some sources also show it present in Imperial County. But it is not a rare species; IUCN calls it “locally abundant” and it’s on the Red List as “least concern”. Nonetheless, I found only two specimens, near Hellhole Canyon. Several authorities agree that there are three subspecies of M. dioica, though IUCN notes “this is a taxonomically complex species”. I don’t have enough information to say which subspecies this might be.
Fishhook cactus grows on dry slopes. Authorities state its size as anything from six inches to one foot tall; this specimen was closer to one foot.
This is one of the few cactus species that doesn’t always bear perfect flowers. Some specimens do, while others bear flowers with functional “female” parts and sterile anthers.
Note the other cactus in the lower left of the last photo. With not much information to go on I’ve tentatively identified it as Echinocereus engelmannii (hedgehog cactus). If you know it, please leave a comment!
*the International Union for Conservation of Nature; the Red List is a global accounting of species’ conservation status.