The fishhook barrel cactus or Ferocactus wislizenii is highly protected in Arizona. Messing with this cactus can land you in some serious trouble. I have seen this cactus a tall as 11 feet and up to 2 feet in diameter. That is a rare occasion to one that large. These have been mistaken for small Saguaro cactuses. These are found from 1,000 to 4,500 feet says some books and websites. I have personally not seen these above 3,500 in my area. These will grow in very sandy deserts, rocky slopes, and rocky desert grasslands. The cactus will bloom from July to September with yellow, yellow orange and sometimes a reddish colored cup like bloom. The fruits follow the blooming cycle with a small grayish, scaly, almost pineapple shaped fruit that form in clusters on the top of the cactus. He spines can be a pale white mixed with a reddish color. These are flat and hook shaped and can be up to 2 inches long.
Another name for this cactus is the compass cactus. This is because the cactus will lean making it look as if the cactus is bowing. This is a defense from the sun making the side that receives the least amount of sun to protrude to the northern sky. This is an accurate way to find a general direction and head for a landmark.
This cactus does have some uses. In the past I have bought a barrel cactus from a native plant nursery for a demonstration. I cut the top off of the cactus to expose the inner pulp. This spongy material holds a lot of water and is valuable in a survival situation. This pulp once removed can be squeezed in hand and using the thumb as a spout allow the juice to run into your mouth. You can also place this pulp into a bandanna and wring it out into a container. The pulp is edible and can be chewed and swallowed along with the liquid. There is a warning that comes with this cactus. I have only used this during the monsoon season when it is very hot in the desert and the cactus is at its fullest. It does contain a compound that will lower your core body temperature. This means in the heat of the desert sun and the warm nights this time of year is not a big deal, in fact it can be quite life saving. The down side is in the winter time or the cooler times of year it can send you into hypothermia.
The fruits contain several seeds that can be eaten. These I have found are pretty decent as far as flavor. These must be harvested before the fruit dries out or the seeds will also harden. At this point they can be turned in a flour by grinding them. Once these are ground you can make a type of flat bread or add the flower to soups and stews. It is very nutritious and will add needed vitamins and minerals to your diet.
The photo shows the pineapple like fruit of the fishhook barrel. These seeds on the inside of the fruit can be eaten raw or even parched over a fire. These are in fact not completely ready but can still be eaten at this early stage. To me they resemble the taste of artichokes (when green). As the season continues the seeds will turn black. At this time they will grind into a wonderful flour or can be enjoyed right out of the pod.