Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Mammillaria grahamii, Graham's Nipple Cactus

Graham's Nipple Cactus has a pretty flower, about an inch or so wide, that is light pink with dark pink centers. The plants bloom from April to September across its geographic range and fruiting takes place from September to March. Mammillaria grahamii Graham's Nipple Cactus is a desert survivor found in a variety of substrates including silty sandy gravelly or rocky soils. It is not uncommon to find this fishhook cactus growing out of cracks in large boulders. Mammillaria grahamii Graham's Nipple Cactus has one or more cylindrical stems that grow up to 12 inches, usually less. This cactus in found in Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert scrub communities, grasslands, interior chaparral in California, oak woodlands and alluvial slopes. Mammillaria grahamii Graham's Nipple Cactus is in the genus Mammillaria, from the Latin “mammilla” referring to the nipples on the stems which resemble mammary glands. A closer look at the photo shows the nipples protruding from the stem each with an areole and spine arrangement. Mammillaria grahamii

Scientific Name: Mammillaria grahamii
Common Name: Graham's Nipple Cactus
Also Called: Arizona Fishhook Cactus, Graham Pincushion Cactus (Spanish: Cabeza de Viejo, Choyita)
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus Family
Synonyms: (Mammillaria grahamii var. grahamii, Mammillaria grahamii var. oliviae, Mammillaria microcarpa, Mammillaria microcarpa var. auricarpa, Mammillaria milleri, Mammillaria oliviae)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: 12 inches or less.
Growth Form: Shrub; 1 or several stems, upper portions not enlarged; stems with tubercles (nipples), stems spheric to cylindric.
Leaves: Leaves modified into spines emerging from areoles; spines 26 to 33 per areole, glabrous, radial spines 17 to 35 per areole whitish or pale tan, bristle-like, central spines 3 to 4 per areole, 1 to 3 spines hooked, reddish to purplish brown to almost black and rarely golden brown.
Flower Color: Light pink, dark pink centers, stigmas lobes yellow green to green; 1 or more flowers; outer perianth parts minutely fringed, inner tepals bright rose pink to rose purple; fruit fleshy, green and turning bright red, scarlet to carmine, barrel shaped and elongating until the color change complete, fruits often trimmed with floral remnants.
Flowering Season: April to September across its geographic range, fruiting September to March.
Elevation: 300 to Up to 4,500 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Chihuahuan and Sonoran desert scrub communities, grasslands, interior chaparral, oak woodlands, alluvial slopes, hills, canons, silty, sandy, gravelly or rocky soils.

Recorded Range: Graham's Nipple Cactus is found in the southwestern United States in AZ, CA, NM, TX. This specie is also native to northwest Mexico in Chihuahua and Sonora.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Mammillaria grahamii.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: Arizona: Mammillaria grahamii, Graham's Nipple Cactus is salvage restricted.

Genus Information: In North America there are 17 species and 24 accepted taxa overall for Mammillaria. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 185 accepted species names and a further 258 scientific names of infraspecific rank for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona has 9 species of Mammillaria, California has 3 species, Nevada and Utah each have 1 species, New Mexico has 6 species, Texas has 8 species. All data is approximate and subject to taxonomic changes.

Comments: The genus Mammillaria is from the Latin derivative of "mammilla" or a reference to the nipples on the stems which resemble mammary glands. The specific epithet "grahamii" is in honor of James Duncan Graham (1799-1865).

The scientific name has been changed multiple times because it is so variable across its geographic range and because of taxonomy problems in the Cactaceae family.

Graham's Nipple Cactus has been used for food and traded by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.

  • Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero Food, Dried Food, Fruit; Dried fruit cooked and eaten. Raw fruit used for food.
  • Apache, San Carlos Food, Fruit; Fruits eaten for food.
  • Pima Drug, Ear Medicine; Plant boiled and placed warm in the ear for earaches and suppurating ears.
  • Pima, Gila River Food, Baby Food, Snake Food Raw pulp eaten primarily by children. Pulp eaten, primarily by children, as a snack food.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 08/13/2017, updated format 10/11/2017
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California, as Mammillaria microcarpa.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 08/13/2017)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 08/13/2017).
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 08/14/2017]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    Allan D. Zimmerman & Bruce D. Parfitt, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Cactaceae | Mammillaria 5. Mammillaria grahamii Engelmann, Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts. 3: 262. 1856 (as Mamillaria grahami). ; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Bruce D. Parfitt 2017. Mammillaria grahamii var. grahamii, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on August 14, 2017.
    Lyman David Benson “The Cacti of the United States and Canada” Stanford University Press, 1982
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information - (accessed 08/13/2017).