Coryphantha vivipara (Pincushion Cactus)

Plant Info
Also known as: Spiny-star
Family:Cactaceae (Cactus)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Endangered
Habitat:sun; dry, rocky or sandy prairie
Bloom season:May - August
Plant height:1 to 5 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals

[photo of flowers] 1 to a few flowers emerge from the apex of the ball, appearing in sequence over the blooming period. Flowers are showy, funnel-shaped, to 2 inches long and 1 to 2 inches across, with many hot pink to magenta petals and a ring of flourescent orange-tipped stamens surrounding 9 soft white fingers that make up the stigma.

Leaves and stem: Leaf type: simple

[photo of pad] With cactus, the fleshy body is a modified stem and spines are modified leaves. The stem is oval to ball-shaped, 1 to 5 inches tall and 1½ to 2 inches in diameter covered with raised bumps called “tubercules”. A radial array of about a dozen ¼ to ½-inch whitish spines is at the apex of each tubercule. 3 to 8 brownish spines up to ¾ inch long project up and out, effectively armoring the space between tubercules. Each tubercule has a groove on one side, though it is sometimes faint. Plants grow singly or in small clusters.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is fleshy, green, shaped like an inverted cone, about 1 inch long. Inside are numerous reddish-brown seeds with a pitted surface.


Pincushion Cactus can be numerous on accommodating sites on the Great Plains from the Dakotas west, even surviving well in rocky pastures, the balls nestled into the short grazed grasses. Size makes it difficult to spot when not in bloom. A similar species is Escobaria missouriensis (nipple cactus), which has yellowish flowers and no grooves on the tubercules. Pincushion Cactus also goes by Escobaria vivipara; the “splitters” separate Escobaria from Coryphantha by its pitted seeds where the “lumpers” put them all in genus Coryphantha. Minnesota currently sides with the lumpers.

Unfortunately the cultivated specimen shown in Additional photos below appears to have been uprooted by some mangy pest (opposum?) which then consumed the fleshy barrel from the roots leaving the armored cuticle behind.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk, taken in a pasture in southeast S. Dakota, and in a private garden in Lino Lakes


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Erin - Minneapolis, Peace Garden
on: 2012-03-02 14:06:52

This plant is along a sidewalk bed along Roseway Road. It is directly in front of a plaque for Alison Rex.

Posted by: Jodi H - Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge
on: 2017-06-05 20:09:29

Found quite a few cacti, a few in bloom. Very beautiful!

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