Jumping Cholla

Chain Fruit Cholla - Opuntia fulgida


Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti with segmented branches. The "jumping cholla", Opuntia fulgida, 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. Because the cholla's 3- to 8-inch joints separate easily, they appear sometimes to "jump" to attack passersby. Also called the "chain fruit cholla" this variety grows to a height of 6 to 15 feet and a diameter of up to 8 feet. It is the largest of the cholla; other cholla specimens are usually much smaller.

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.

Cholla cactus

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.


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

-- A.R Royo

Desert Plant & Wildflower Index

Photo tips: Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function - usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.


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