Summary of barrel cactus and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: telku

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus viridescens)


Barrel Cactus, often called San Diego Barrel Cactus, is a rare species native to the southern California and northern Baja California coastal areas. It can be found on sea bluffs, marine terraces, and well-drained inland ridges. Barrel cactus is aptly named for its spherical to nearly cylindrical shape and is usually wider (1.5 feet) than tall (1 foot). Its bright green flesh and arrays of curved to straight reddish spines along its ribs make it easy to identify. It blooms in the spring with yellow to greenish flowers that have red or pink scales. Fruits are yellow or red. Barrel Cactus habitat continues to be threatened San Diego County, where most of its native range is located.

The Barrel Cactus flesh, flower buds, fruits, and seeds are used for food. The flesh is eaten raw or boiled, flower buds are fried or boiled in salt water, and the fruits (collected in early June) are eaten fresh or dried.

As discussed by Katherine Siva Saubel in the local ethnobotany book, Temalpakh, indigenous families canned the buds of the barrel cactus. Katherine's family canned over 100 quarts of these buds after one plentiful spring harvest.

The seeds of this plant are collected in July, dried, toasted, and ground before eating. The “barrel” itself was traditionally used as a roasting vessel by cutting the top off, removing the flesh, and replacing it with the meal and hot stones. For emergency water, the top was cut off and the flesh was pounded until liquid could be squeezed from the pulp. The spines were utilized as fishhooks.



Photo: Public Domain