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111713-032

Cholla Cactus
* Opuntia spp. *

Common Names: Cholla, Cactus, buckhorn cholla, major cholla, yellow flowered cane cactus

Taxonomy: Cactacea, Opuntia spp. [ species: (over 20) ]

Localities/Environment: North American Deserts (hot). Requires coarse, well-drained soils in dry, rocky flats or slopes, mountain forests, and/or steep rocky slopes in the foothills.

Description: A shrubby cactus of the Opuntia genus (sharing with Prickly Pears) that possesses cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints that hold water, conduct photosynthesis, and blossoms flowers for the plant. The cacti has tubercles, which are small wart-like projections off of its stems from which sharp spines grow (the leaves of this plant). The cholla however, is the only cacti that has papery sheaths covering their spines which are bright, colorful, and give a distinctive appearance to the plant. This family is unique in that the glochids ( clusters of tiny, fine barbed spines) are found just above the cluster of glochids (regular spines) that are yellow or red in color and detachable from the bud or stem. The flowers tend to be greenish-yellow or orange blooming from April through June, with its stems and joins varying in width, shape, length, and color. Sometimes the cacti looks like ground creepers, trees, or shrubs as they can vary in size from under a foot tall to a height of 15 feet (depending on the species).

Species:

  • Buckhorn Cholla / Major Cholla / Yellow Flowered Cane Cactus ~ Opuntia acanthocarpa.

    Description: A light green cholla found in many different locales. It has spine sheaths that are inconspicuous and light colored. There are five variations of this kind, Opuntia acanthocarpa, Opuntia coloradensis, Opuntia ganderi, Opuntia major, and Opuntia thornberi. It grows from 3-10 feet tall, with long and straggly joints, producing bright yellow to orange, pink or red flowers atop spiny and dry fruit.

    Location: Sonoran Desert (Arizona, USA) at approximately 500-4,000 feet above sea level.

  • Cane Cholla / Cholla Cactus / Opuntia spinosior.

    Description: Possessing a thick tubercled trunk with purple joints covered with gray spines it can grow up to 8 feet in height. It white to yellow ranging to deep purple flowers are atop fleshy, spineless, yellow winter fruit.

    Localities: Chihuahua Desert of the Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico desert floors to grasslands, and lower mountain slopes at elevations from 2,000-7,000 feet above sea level.

  • Chain Fruit Cholla, Chain Cholla, or Jumping Cholla – Opuntia fulgida
    Localities: Central/Southern Arizona to Northwest New Mexico especially in the Sonoran Desert from 0-4,000 feet above sea level.
    Description: This Cacti species of Cholla is the largest and can grow upwards of 15 feet tall. It has a very spiny body that gives it an appearance of being a shrub or tree. Fruits grow upon each other from season to season creating a chain of dead fruit sometimes as long as 2′ which gives root to its name as chain fruit.It has small, oblong, yellow-green short colored spiny joints with white to pink colored petals streaked with lavender colored flowers, bearing 1.5 inch green spineless pear shaped berry fruit growing in clusters and hanging in long, branched chains.
  • Christmas Cholla, Holy cross Cholla, Desert Christmas Cactus ~ Opuntia leptocaulis

    Description: The slenderest of the Cholla cactus species, the is the most common found in the Chihuahua Desert. It possesses red berries, has slender to smooth joints that have uninterrupted segments from its tubercles. It can reach a height of 4-6 feet tall. Its flowers are yellow to bronze in color, with bright-red grape-sized berries as its fruit.Localities: Chihuahuan desert especially at the 200-5,000 feet above sea level range. Most common in southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
  • Devil Cholla, Club Cholla ~ Opunria clavata

    Localities: Chihuahuan Desert of Central New Mexico from 6,000-8,000 feet above sea level. Description: Devil Cholla belongs as Club Cholla described as such because of their club-shaped joints with well-defined tubercles, with no sheaths on spines, forming at the base of older joints that lie on the ground making them low-growing, forming thick impenetrable various colored sharp thorny mats on the desert floor. Grows up to 4 inches in height. The yellow, spiny, 3 inch long fruit bud forth a lemon-yellow to greenish flower.
  • Devil Cholla, Club Cholla ~ Opucia parishii

    Localities: Mojave Desert of Eastern California from 6,000-8,000 feet above sea level. Description: Devil Cholla belongs as Club Cholla described as such because of their obovoid segmented club-shaped joints growing up to an inch in diameter with well-defined tubercles, with no sheaths on spines, forming at the base of older joints that lie on the ground making them low-growing, forming thick impenetrable various colored sharp thorny mats on the desert floor. Grows up to 4 inches in height. The lemon-yellow with green center flower buds into a fleshy, smooth, lemon-yellow fruit upwards of 3 inches in length.
  • Devil Cholla, Club Cholla ~ Opuntia schotti

    Localities: Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas from 1,000-5,000 feet above sea level. Description: Devil Cholla belongs as Club Cholla described as such because of their club-shaped joints with well-defined tubercles, with no sheaths on spines, forming at the base of older joints that lie on the ground making them low-growing. Grows up to 12 inches in height. The lemon-yellow to greenish flowers bud forth yellow, spiny, 3 inches long fruit.

  • Devil Cholla, Club Cholla ~ Opuntia stanlyi

    Localities: Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert of Southern California ranging through Southwestern New Mexico from 300-4,000 feet above sea level. Description: Devil Cholla belongs as Club Cholla described as such because of their club-shaped joints with well-defined tubercles, with no sheaths on spines, forming at the base of older joints that lie on the ground making them low-growing. Grows up to 12 inches in height. The lemon-yellow to greenish flowers but forth a yellow, spiny, 3 inches long fruit.

  • Diamond Cholla, Pencil Cactus ~ Opuntia ramoissima
    Localities: Sonoran Desert of SE California, southern Nevada, and SW Arizona at an elevation range of 100 to 3,000 feet. Description: the Diamond Cholla is a low shrub at a maximum height of 5 feet tall, that grows in the driest of deserts. It is the only cholla that has a grooved surface. It possessed prominent yellow or tan spine sheaths with an orange tip. Its joints are pencil sized, with grooved grey stems that offshoot diamond-shaped tubercles (giving its namesake) fruiting into spiny dry burrs and hosting dark pink to apricot flowers.

  • Klein’s Cholla ~ Opuntia kleiniae
    Localities:Found in the 2,000-6,000 elevation range, in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of central Arizona to western Texas. Description: A trunk-less cholla that looks similar to the Christmas and Pencil chollas, but possessing thicker stems. It has spines that grow into a pointing down cluster. It can grow upwards of three to seven feet tall. It has thick tuberculate joints that produce pink to purple flowers and smooth orange to red fruits.

  • Pencil Cholla ~ Opuntia arbuscula
    Localities: Found in sandy and gravel plains, washes, and valleys of the Sonoran Deserts of SE California and SW Arizona in an elevation range of 1,000-4,500 feet above sea level. Description: the Pencil Cholla is often mistakenly identified or mixed up with the Klein or Christmas cholla, it is easy to distinguish as having a trunk instead of being a shrub. It can grow upwards of 2-5 feet tall, with long thin deep green pencil-sized joints without tubercles bearing yellow to orange flowers and fleshy green fruit.

  • Sand Cholla ~ Opuntia pulchella
    Localities: favors high elevation of 4,500-7,000 feet
    dry-lake borders and sandy flats in the Northern Mojave Desert from eastern California to southern Utah region. Description: A bristle covered tuber growing in a clump upwards in height of 10 inches with narrow club-shaped to cylindrical one inch diameter joints producing pink to magenta yellow-green filamented flowers and smooth red fleshy barbed up to 1 inch long fruits.

  • Silver cholla, gold cholla> ~ Opuntia echinocarpa
    Localities: Description: This cholla has white to yellow sheaths that display either silver or gold colors, is busy, short-trunk-ed with many short and small oblong yellow-green with short colored spines upwards in height of 5 feet tall producing greenish yellow out portions red streaked flowers and spiny dry fruit when ripe.

  • Staghorn cholla, tree cholla, deerhorn cholla ~ Opuntia versicolor
    Localities: This cholla can be found in a 100 mile diameter of Tucson, Arizona and southward into Mexico within a 1,000-4,000 foot elevation above sea level. Description: This cholla is a tree-like cactus with forked branches that resemble deer antlers and can hybrid with Buckhorn and Cane chollas making its identification difficult, growing upwards of 3-15 feet tall. Its joints are dull green branching into very long stems, producing a variety of versa-color flowers with green pear-shaped fleshy often chained fruit.

  • Teddy bear Cholla or Jumping cholla ~ Opuntia bigelovii
    Localities: Found in Sonoran Desert of western Arizona, southern Nevada and southeastern California within an elevation of 100-5,000 feet above sea level. Description: Named by the fact the branches resemble fuzzy arms and the legs of a Teddy Bear, it possesses dense short straw-colored spines with small, oblong, yellow-green joints that produce greenish to yellow with lavender streaked flowers and egg-shaped yellow fruit up to an inch long. This cholla grows up to 5-9 feet tall.

  • Tree Cholla ~ Opuntia imbricata
    Localities: Found in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico and Texas north to semi-desert areas of eastern Colorado and western Oklahoma at an elevation of 2,000-7,000 feet above sea level. Common in desert flats and within juniper and pinon stands. Description: This Cholla is a somewhat spineless green to purplish cane cholla resembling cactus growing up to 7 feet tall with very fat joints and tubercles producing deep lavender to red flowers and 2 inch long yellow oval fruit.

  • Whipple Cholla ~ Opuntia whipplei
    Localities: Found in the Chihuahuan Desert of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico on plains and grasslands at a preferred elevation of 4,500-7,000 feet above sea level. Description: A group of cholla cactus growing as shrubs or in mats upwards of 30 inches in height, with green cylindrical joints roughly upwards of 6 inches in length, producing pale to lemon yellow flowers and yellow spineless round to ovoid 15. inch long fruit.

  • Wolf’s Cholla ~ Opuntia wolfii
    Localities: Found on the western edge of the Sonoran Desert to Baja California. It thrives in a 1,000-4,000 feet above sea level elevation. Description: pale brown with purple filamented flowers and dry tubercled one inch long fruits. Common cholla of the Colorado Desert with brown one inch spines with translucent sheaths, branched joints from its base in cylindrical segments, growing to a height upwards of 6 feet tall. It produces pale brown flowers with purple filaments and 1 inch long dry tubercled fruit.

  • Jumping Cholla, hanging Chain Cholla ~ Cylindropuntia fulgida
    Localities: native to the Southwestern U.S. and Sonora as well as the islands in the Gulf of California especially in the 1,000-3,000 feet above sea level range. Description: A cholla that is a arborescent/tree-like plant with one low-branching trunk, growing upwards of 12 feet tall, with drooping branches of chained fruit, with light green strongly tuberculate stems, hosting small wart-like tubercles on the stem measuring 6-9 mm in length. The stems produce white to pink flowers streaked with lavender about 1″ wide producing fleshy green sterile pear-shaped to roundish wrinkled 4 cm long fruits.

    References/Recommended Reading:
  • Desert USA.com 1999 Chollas: http://www.desertusa.com/mag99/may/papr/chollas.html. Website referenced October 2013.
  • Pinkava, D.J. 1999 Cactaceae cactus family.
  • Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. u.d. Cholla ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylindropuntia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylindropuntia_fulgida. Web site referenced November 2013.

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