W Guangxi, SW Guizhou, SW Sichuan, SE Xizang, Yunnan [of cultivated origin in Mexico ca. 9000 years ago; widely introduced as a hedge or for its edible young joints and fruit; naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions].
The original range and hence the wild population of this species is unknown, therefore its wild status cannot be assessed and is listed as Data Deficient although it is an extremely widespread (as a result of introductions) and abundant (because of cultivation programmes and its invasive characteristics) species.
Shrubs erect or small trees, 1.5-5 m tall. Trunk (when present) terete. Joints dull green or grayish green, broadly to narrowly obovate, elliptic, or oblong, (20-)25-60 × 7-20 cm, thick. Areoles usually narrowly elliptic, 2-4.5 mm. Spines usually absent, sometimes 1-6 per areole, spreading or deflexed, bristlelike or acicular, 0.3-3.2 cm, basally flattened; glochids yellow, early deciduous. Leaves conic, 3-4 mm, early deciduous. Flowers 5-8 cm in diam. Sepaloids yellow with reddish or green center, broadly ovate or obovate, to 2 cm, margin entire or denticulate, apex truncate or acute, mucronate. Petaloids spreading, yellow to orange, obovate to oblong-obovate, 2.5-3.5 × 1.5-2 cm, margin entire or erose, apex rounded, truncate, mucronate, or emarginate. Filaments yellowish, ca. 6 mm; anthers yellow, 1.2-1.5 mm. Style greenish, ca. 15 mm; stigmas (6-)7-10, cream, 3-4 mm. Fruit yellow, orange, or purplish, 5-10 × 4-9 cm, umbilicus low and concave. Seeds gray or tan, elliptic-orbicular, 4-5 × 3.5-4 mm. Fl. May-Jun.
Trees, 3-6 m; trunk to 30-45 cm diam. Stem segments green, broadly oblong to ovate to narrowly elliptic, (20-)4-60 × 2-3+ cm, low tuberculate; areoles 7-11 per diagonal row across midstem segment, rhombic to subcircular, 2-4(-5) mm diam.; wool brown. Spines 1-6 per areole, absent or very highly reduced, or in marginal to nearly all areoles, erect to spreading, whitish, tan, or brown, setaceous only or setaceous and subulate, straight to slightly curved, basally angular-flattened, 1-10(-40) mm; 0-2 small bristlelike deflexed spines to 5 mm. Glochids along adaxial margin of areole and small, inconspicuous tuft, yellowish, aging brown, less than 2 mm. Flowers: inner tepals yellow to orange throughout, 25-50 mm; filaments and anthers yellow; style bright red; stigma lobes yellow. Fruits yellow to orange to purple, 50-100 × 40-90 mm, fleshy to ± juicy, glabrous, usually spineless; areoles 45-60, evenly distributed on fruit. Seeds pale tan, subcircular, 4-5 mm diam., warped; girdle protruding to 1 mm. 2n = 88.
Reasons: This is a species known from most of tropical America that has been widely domesticated and introduced as a cactus crop in the New and Old World both historically and recently; as important as corn and tequila agave in the agricultural economy of modern Mexico.