Cholla (choy yu)

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.


Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactacea) in the North American deserts. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti of this genus with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions -- water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

Like most cactus, chollas have tubercles -- small, wart-like projections on the stems -- from which sharp spines -- actually modified leaves -- grow. But chollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.


Prickly pears are also members of the Opuntia genus, but their branches are manifested as pads rather than cylindrical joints. Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads or stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.


Beavertail Cactus

Mojave and Sonoran deserts of southeastern California, southwestern Utah and western Arizona.


Dry, rocky desert slopes.



Brilliant red-to-lavender flowers 2 to 3 inches wide with many petals bloom March to June.

DescriptionThis low, spreading cactus with short bristles grows 6 to 12 inches high and up to 6 feet wide. The gray-green, jointed stems are wide and flat resembling the tail of a beaver.

Oval in shape, the stems are 1 to 6 inches wide and 2 to 13 inches long. The stems grow in clumps with flowers from the top edge of the joints. Flowers are followed by a brownish-gray, oval fruit more than an inch long with many seeds.



The Ocotillo (ow ku 'tee yo) has many interesting names such as Candlewood, Slimwood, Coachwhip, Vine Cactus, Flaming Sword and Jacob's Staff. The Ocotillo is indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, which is located in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico at latitude is 23° to 33° North and longitude 107° to 112°West.

The terrain of the desert is open and very rocky, and its soil is well drained. The elevation of the Sonoran Desert is about 5,000 feet. The average yearly temperature is 90°F, and the average yearly precipitation is less then 10 inches.

There are many plants indigenous to Sonoran Desert; one of interest is the Ocotillo, or Vine Cactus. The Ocotillo prefers to grow in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of Southeast

California to West Texas and south into Mexico.


The Genus Yucca does only grow naturally in the new world, it consists of about 50 species in the USA and about 30 species in Mexico south to Guatemala (Yucca elephantipes). In the United States the Genus Yucca range from the Atlantic seashore to the Pacific coast  and north into the southern part of Canada. Only in the Pacific north western states and in the Atlantic north eastern states there are no Yucca species (except for those in cultivation!). In the old world and other places Yuccas has been introduced and has naturalized, but only vegetatively, while Yuccas need a specific moth to be pollinated. The only species that seems to produce seeds outside the new world is Yucca aloifolia, which make viable seeds in the old world. I have reports of fruits from: Spain (on several of the Spanish isle's), Italy, Switzerland (Bodensee) and Hungary (Budapest botanical garden).


Range & Habitat

Barrel cactus usually grow along desert washes, gravely slopes and beneath desert canyon walls in all of the hot desert of North America from the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of southern California, southern Arizona west to Texas and south into Baja, California and central Mexico.


Most barrel cactus have 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inch yellow-green or red flowers growing in a crown near the top of the stem. Most species bloom April through June, depending on local conditions. Growing up to 10 feet high, all have stout ribs, Dense clusters of spines usually grow along the ribs, sometimes forming a cross in the center of the cluster.

Information on the species below is based on wild, non-cultivated samples.

Ferocactus wislizenii

When young, this barrel cactus is globe-shaped, elongating only after becoming about a foot in diameter. It has a long, wide, flat central spine, crosshatched with little ridges and curving downward at the end. It also has many white, bristly radial spines.

Desert: Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of southern Arizona and New Mexico
Height: 4-11 feet
Spines: Red beneath a gray surface layer.
Flowers: Orange, red or yellow bloom in July to September
Fruit: Bright yellow, fleshy
Elevation: 1,000-4,600 feet