Sonoran Desert of central and south Arizona and northwest Mexico to an elevation of 4,000 feet.
Dry, sandy soils of bajadas, valleys, plains and slopes.
Scattered at the end of branches and on fruit, flowers bloom in March and April. They are about 1 inch long with 5 to 8 white and pink petals streaked with lavender.
Green, spineless, pear-shaped berries grow on the edge of pads. Fruit is 1 1/2 inches long and half as wide and has many seeds. Some remains attached for several years and bear new flowers and fruit annually. Such fruit clusters will hand in long, branched chains
Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti with segmented branches. The Jumping Cholla is a very spiny cactus, usually a shrub, but sometimes more like a tree, with a number of irregular, jointed branches bearing sharp-barbed spines that are painful and difficult to remove. This is the largest of the cholla, attaining a height of up to 15 feet and growing as much as 6 feet wide. It is usually much smaller.
Because these 3- to 8-inch joints separate easily, they are accused of "jumping" to attack passersby. Also called the "chain fruit" and the "jumping cholla," it grows to a height of 6 to 10 feet and a diameter of up to 8 feet.
The somewhat drooping branches bear light-green, 1/2- to 1-inch leaves only when young. Clusters of green, spineless, pear-shaped fruit about an inch in length hang in chains from the branches. Some remain attached for several years, bearing new flowers annually, sometimes with no seeds. New fruits are added to those from previous seasons, creating a chain of spineless fruit up to 2 feet long -- hence the name "chain fruit."
In times of drought, deer and Bighorn Sheep have traditionally relied on this juicy fruit as a source of food and water. These days, cattle often rely on it for the same reasons, sometimes growing fond enough of this desert delicacy to ignore the sharp barbs of its jointed branches, even in moister times.
The Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovi) is also referred to as "Jumping Cholla" by many. It can be distinguished by its dense, straw-colored spines and yellow to green flowers.
-- A.R Royo
Desert Plant & Wildflower Index