Jumping Cholla Facts

Michael Bryan

Michael Bryan

Published: 01 Sep 2021

Modified: 16 Sep 2021

jumping cholla

The jumping cholla is a beautiful, big cactus found in the Sonoran Desert. Now, despite its magnificent beauty, people will be surprised about the fact that this plant has a nasty side. Its barbed cactus spines would attach to people and animals coming too close resulting in a common painful reaction. Known to flourish in the very harsh environment of the desert, this plant has developed a wonderful adaptation to protect itself from hungry plant-eaters. The jumping cholla can symbolize the strive for survival and staying strong even when facing hard challenges in life. Listed below are our informative and entertaining facts about this awesome plant that will surely be worth your time.

  1. Cylindropuntia fulgida is a cholla cactus native to Sonora and the Southwestern United States.
  2. In the Southwestern United States, the range extends into the Colorado Desert of California, and in Arizona.
  3. Cylindropuntia fulgida grows at elevations ranging from 300 to 1,000 m.
  4. The jumping cholla is an arborescent tree-like plant with one low-branching trunk.
  5. It often grows to heights of 4 m (13 ft), with drooping branches of chained fruit.
  1. They have 6 to 12 spines that grow from each areole.
  2. They have a 2-3 cm silvery-yellow spike that covers their branch. The spikes would darken to a gray color with age.
  3. The jumping cholla blooms from February to March.
  4. Their flowers are yellow-greenish in color and would appear at the end of the branches.
  5. Its spine becomes rough and scaly with age.
  6. The fruit of these plants are fleshy, pear-shaped to nearly round, wrinkled with a few spines. They are usually sterile.
  7. Its name is pronounced as the Jumping “Choy-a”.
  8. The name, jumping cholla comes from the ease with which the stems detach when brushed.
  9. The jumping cholla is very sensitive to touch. A person can get bits of cactus hanging on their clothes without even knowing it.
  10. Usually, the ground of a mature plant will be covered with its dead stems. Young plants would start to grow from stems that have fallen from the adult plant.
  1. Jumping chollas live for decades in the wild.
  2. The fruit of a jumping cholla represents an important source of food and water for deers and bighorn sheep during long periods of drought.
  3. Jumping chollas usually produce sterile fruit. The plant often propagates via parts of the stem.
  4. People would use its wood for making handicrafts.
  5. They have a dense spiny coat that acts like a shield that prevents overheating and hungry herbivores at a safe distance.
Table of Contents

The jumping cholla can make its own food.

The stem of a jumping cholla consists of numerous segments. It stores water and performs photosynthesis. Then, it uses the energy of the sun to produce food from water and carbon dioxide as most plants do.

They can form a forest of needles.

A large number of jumping chollas often grow close to each other and create an impression of a large forest.  In particular, chollas and other barbed cactus spines have a structure similar to porcupine quills, with shingled, overlapping barbs. These barbs fracture flesh and catch in it more easily than non-barbed spines.

cactus, jumping cholla, plant
Image from pixabay

It is alluringly pretty with illumination.

The spines of a jumping cholla are covered with a thin, paper-like sheath that can be tan, gold, silver, or white-colored. This layer reflects light and produces a beautiful, colorful effect. Chollas are a large genus of beautiful, tricky, unusual, and semi-dangerous cacti, so being careful around them would not hurt.

Their detachable spines are responsible for the unusual name of this plant.

Since their spines look like they are able to jump and attack humans and animals that are brave enough to approach this plant. The barbed cactus spines don’t actually jump, of course. They just detach easily from the main plant and hook tenaciously and sometimes painfully into people and animals who get too close.

Their barbs are very complicated to remove.

The jumping cholla has barbed spines. They are microscopic, but they easily penetrate the skin and are additionally complicated to remove from the body. However, the plant itself is not trying to deliberately hurt us, it’s just trying to survive, instead. When people or animals manage to remove the spines, they usually fall to the ground in a new location and can root right there.

Their fruit hangs like a chain.

These plants typically grow about 4 cm long.  They often produce flowers the following year, which add new fruits to those from the previous seasons. These hanging chains of fruit gave it the name “hanging chain cholla.”

cactus, plant, desert, hanging fruit
Image from pxhere

These plants are being left to flourish.

Safe from negative human activities, these barbed plants are left to flourish because they inhabit a harsh and hostile environment that humans rarely visit. At the same time, jumping chollas further increase their reproducing potential by hitching a ride when they detach their spines.

Keep your eyes peeled for them.

If you want to avoid making contact with these plants, you only have to make sure that you are highly observant of your surroundings as you make your way. However, you won’t find these cacti in your normal daily stroll.

They are not poisonous.

One of the most common concerns about the jumping cholla’s needles is whether they are poisonous or not. The answer to this question is that they aren’t. The cactus needles mainly cause discomfort because of the sharpness of the needles.

cactus, big, plant, desert
Image from Flickr

They are big and beautiful.

For all their pesky habit of attaching themselves to people, jumping cholla are some of the largest and most beautiful cacti other than giant saguaros. Like most cacti, the jumping cholla has modified leaves that now grow as sharp spines. In most species of cholla, these spines are covered with a papery sheath that helps cool the plant from the extreme summer heat. These sheaths can be bright and colorful but are most often somewhat creamy in color.