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Jumping Cholla Opuntia fulgida


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Jumping Cholla - habit
credit: Dave Pape

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Alternate name: Cholla

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description A very spiny cactus, commonly a shrub, occasionally a small tree with short trunk. The stout, jointed, cylindrical, irregular spreading to slightly drooping branches are leafless except when young.
Habit: native perennial shrub or tree; upright with spreading crown, much-branched, with twisting stems.
Height: 3-10 ft (1-3 m) or more;
Trunk diameter: 6 in (15 cm).
Bark: blackish-brown, becoming scaly and rough, spineless.
Twig: segmented, braided, gray-green; each pad 2.5-6.5 in (6-16 cm) long or more, 0.8-1.4 in (2-3.5 cm) diameter.
Leaf: barbed spine, silvery-yellow becoming gray, to 1.2 in (3 cm) long; in cluster of 0-18 per areole; on young segments, spines are plentiful and almost obscure the stem; older segments have fewer, shorter spines.
Flower: pink to magenta, 1 in (25 mm) wide; borne at end of joints, and on fruit.
Fruit: oval to pear- or barrel-shaped, bumpy and wrinkled, persistent, pale green becoming gray-green, to 2 in (5 cm) long 1-1.75 in (25-45 mm) diameter; may persist for years; held in long branching chain.

Warning These cacti have sharp spines with tiny barbed hairs called glochids that can cause painful wounds and are difficult to remove from the skin.

Flower April to September.

Habitat Dry, sandy soil: Sonoran desert scrub, sandy flats, rocky slopes, rolling hillsides, forming dense "cactus forests" in deserts; 1000-3600 ft (300-1100 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Native to the desert Southwest, from California east to New Mexico, into northwestern Mexico.

Discussion Recently reclassified as Cylindropuntia fulgida var. fulgida. Also known as chain-fruit cholla, jumping chain-fruit cholla, hanging chain cholla. Collection restricted in Arizona.

The common name Cholla (pronounced CHAW-ya or CHO-ya), meaning skull or head in Spanish, is applied to various shrubby cacti with jointed branches, of which this species is the largest. Its segments or joints, easily detached by touching, adhere to clothing and skin. They are fancifully said to jump out and attack passersby, especially when ones back is turned, as the common name implies. The dead, weathered, woody skeletons of the stems, forming hollow cylinders with many holes, are used in making novelties. Fruit and seeds of cacti are consumed in great quantities by wildlife of many kinds, especially rodents. Detached branches will root and start new plants, spreading on some rangelands.