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Harrisia fragrans is a thin columnar cactus that grows on shell mounds and sandy scrub along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge of Florida's east coast from Volusia County south to St. Lucie County (Moore 2012). The columns can be up to 15 feet long, and usually recline against other vegetation when the get that tall. More typically, columns are between 3-7 feet tall and may occur in a small clusters in hammock vegetation. A few columns lay directly on the ground and can give rise to several new vegetative sprouts. The columns have 10-12 ribs, with moderate to deep grooves between. Areolas have a cluster of 9-13 spines with one spine particularly long in each cluster in larger individuals.
Because of the elevated and well-drained nature of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, major transportation corridors (Florida East Coast railroad, US Route 1, Interstate 95) have encouraged development in habitat formerly occupied by H. fragrans. Because of encroaching development, H. fragrans has been reduced to a few protected areas and immediately adjacent private properties. The vast majority of individuals still in the wild are found in and around Savannas Preserve State Park. Small populations can also be found in Canaveral National Seashore. Almost all other populations between those two sites have been exterminated. The reduced number of individuals (<4000 total) and reduced spatial extent has resulted in this species' listing as federally endangered (USFWS 2010).