Collecting and growing succulents has grown in popularity in recent years all over the world. Unfortunately, this renewed interest in plants has had a negative impact on a number of succulent species in the wild. Many succulents, including those on this list, are illegally harvested in the wild and sold to collectors all over the world.
As a result, a number of succulents have become critically endangered in their natural habitats, and some of the succulents on this list are on the verge of extinction. While admiring these rare succulents is enjoyable, make certain that any in your own collection were obtained ethically.
Sand Dollar Cactus
- Current Estimated Number: about 2,000
- Location (Range): Texas, USA; and Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, Mexico
- Scientific Name: Astrophytum asterias
The Sand Dollar Cactus (also known as the sea urchin cactus, star cactus, or star peyote) is a spineless cactus native to Texas and Mexico. Succulent/cacti enthusiasts love this adorable little cactus. Since its discovery in the mid-1800s, the Sand Dollar Cactus has been a popular ornamental succulent.
However, the Sand Dollar Cactus’ popularity makes it vulnerable in the wild, and the IUCN Red List reports that people from all over the world illegally remove the cactus from the wild and mail it home. The most recent update on the wild population numbers of the Sand Dollar Cactus was in 2015, and it estimated that there were only about 2,000 individual plants left. Conservationists advise against taking Sand Dollar Cactus from the wild because it is quite easy to grow from seeds and cuttings.
- Current Estimated Number: fewer than 1,000
- Location (Range): Santo Antão, São Vicente and São Nicolau (Cape Verde Islands)
- Scientific Name: Aeonium gorgoneum
The Aeonium gorgoneum, also known as Salo by the locals on the Cape Verde Islands, is a rare succulent that is susceptible to overharvesting. Salo is frequently used in traditional medicine to treat coughs and other medical problems. There are fewer than 1,000 Salo plants left in the wild, according to the IUCN Red List.
The Salo is found on three Cape Verde Islands: Santo Anto, So Vicente, and So Nicolau. Some areas where the Salo grows on each island are protected (Parque Natural de Moroços, Parque Natural Cova / Paul / Ribeira da Torre, and Parque Natural de Monte Verde), but harvesting the Salo is not well managed yet.
Pelotilla de Chinamada
- Current Estimated Number: fewer than 600
- Location (Range): Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
- Scientific Name: Monanthes wildpretii
The Pelotilla de Chinamada is a rare succulent that grows only on the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife. Every known Pelotilla de Chinamada grows in an area no larger than 1 km2 (0.386 mi2). The population of Pelotilla de Chinamada was reported to be 593 individuals in 2009, with 504 of those being mature plants.
Pelotilla de Chinamada thrives in fissures and crevices. It also frequently grows alongside other succulents in the Monanthes genus. Pelotilla de Chinamada’s already small population has been harmed by its proximity to a heavily traveled road. As a result, the habitat of the Pelotilla de Chinamada has deteriorated, and the succulent is at risk of being collected and sold as a rare plant.
Rose Pincushion Cactus
- Current Estimated Number: fewer than 250
- Location (Range): San Miguel de Allende in Cañada Virgen, Guanajuato, Mexico
- Scientific Name: Mammillaria zeilmanniana
Although the Rose Pincushion Cactus is widely cultivated due to its lovely crown of pink flowers, it is rare and critically endangered in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, the Rose Pincushion Cactus’s popularity is its most serious disadvantage. Illegal collecting is one of the primary causes of the decline in the wild Rose Pincushion Cactus population.
To make matters worse, the Rose Pincushion Cactus grows in a very small area (1 km2 (0.386 mi2)) in San Miguel de Allende, Caada Virgen, Mexico. There are fewer than 250 wild Rose Pincushion Cacti, according to the IUCN Red List.
- Current Estimated Number: 200 – 500
- Location (Range): Taolagnaro region, Madagascar
- Scientific Name: Aloe helenae
The Aloe helenae, also known as the Vahondrandra on the IUCN Red List, is a critically endangered succulent native to southern Madagascar. It is estimated that there are between 200 and 500 Vahondrandras in the wild, and that their numbers may be dwindling. The most serious threat to Vahondrandra’s survival is the destruction of its habitat, which is being cleared for agriculture and mining.
While the Vahondranda may not live much longer in the wild, there are a few plants still alive in botanic gardens around the world. Vahondradra is also occasionally sold for private cultivation, but it is still quite rare in its natural habitat and elsewhere in the world.
- Current Estimated Number: about 200
- Location (Range): Goiás, Brazil
- Scientific Name: Estevesia alex-bragae
Estevesia alex-bragae is the only succulent species known to science. This very rare flowering cactus is little known, and it was only recently described in 2009 by Pierre J. Braun. Unfortunately, this already rare succulent is critically endangered, with only 200 individual plants believed to exist.
When the Estevesia alex-bragae was studied in 2009, researchers discovered that land had been cleared for soya production only 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) away. According to the IUCN Red List, if nearby land is used for soya production, up to 90% of the remaining Estevesia alex-bragae population may be wiped out.
Giant Quiver Tree
- Current Estimated Number: fewer than 200
- Location (Range): Ritchersveld, Cape Province, South Africa; and possibly as far north as Brandberg, Namibia
- Scientific Name: Aloidendron pillansii (previously Aloe pillansii
While the Giant Quiver Tree does not resemble most succulents, it is one of three aloe trees native to southern Africa, and all aloe plants are succulents. The Giant Quiver Tree, or Aloidendron pillansii, is the most rare of the three African aloe trees. According to the IUCN Red List, there may be less than 200 Giant Quiver Trees left in the wild.
The Giant Quiver Tree and other aloe trees were previously classified as aloes, but a new genus, Aloidendron, was established for these distinctive succulent trees. The Giant Quiver Tree, as the name suggests, can grow very tall, reaching a maximum height of about 10 m. (32.8 ft). The Giant Quiver Tree faces several threats, including its naturally small population, illegal collecting, low natural recruitment, and habitat loss due to mining and livestock farming.
- Current Estimated Number: 50 – 250
- Location (Range): Magdelena do Mar, Madeira, Portugal
- Scientific Name: Aichryson dumosum
The Aichryson dumosum, which has no common name due to its rarity, is a succulent native to Madeira, Portugal. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 250 Aichryson dumosum plants left in the wild, and their numbers are declining. The Aichryson dumosum lives in a protected area that is only about 100 m2 (1,076.4 ft2).
Despite its protected habitat, the Aichryson dumosum is still threatened by invasive species, trampling, fires, droughts, and landslides. The Aichryson dumosum is classified as critically endangered due to its small population size. Raising public awareness about Aichryson dumosum is one of the recommended conservation actions.
- Current Estimated Number: about 70
- Location (Range): Rio Grande do Sul
- Scientific Name: Parodia rechensis
The Parodia rechensis, like many of the succulents on this list, is rare because it is difficult to grow and its natural habitat is threatened. Although the Parodia, also known as Notocactus rechensis, is listed as critically endangered on the Rio Grande do Sul threatened species list, the natural habitat of the succulent is not protected.
Extensive research into the status of Parodia rechensis was conducted in 2012. The scientists discovered that the Parodia rechensis is on the verge of extinction in the wild, with only two surviving populations. The scientists discovered only about 42 Parodia rechensis at the time, and the IUCN Red List estimates that there are only about 70 or so plants left today.
- Current Estimated Number: likely extinct in the wild, fewer than 50 in private collections
- Location (Range): Britania, Goiás, Brazil
- Scientific Name: Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans
Little is known about the Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans, which lacks a common name and may be extinct in the wild. It is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, and it is estimated that fewer than 50 plants are grown privately by people around the world. This makes the Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans the world’s rarest succulent.
Because its natural habitat was cleared and plowed for small-scale agriculture and cattle ranching, this Discocactus is nearly extinct in one region of Brazil. While all Discocactus species are fairly rare due to their difficulty in cultivation, Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans is the most rare. Succulent enthusiasts in the United States and the United Kingdom grow Discocactus subterraneo-proliferans.