About 20 different species of the Cholla Cactus or the genus Opuntia, which belongs to the family Cactaceae, are found in the deserts of North America. The term "cholla" refers to a number of shrubby cacti that belong to this genus and have cylindrical stems made up of segmented joints. These "stems" are actually modified branches that serve multiple purposes, including the storage of water, the generation of flowers, and the process of photosynthesis.
Like most other types of cactus, Chollas have tubercles, which are little, wart-like projections on the stems, and these are the structures from which the sharp spines, which are actually modified leaves, originate. On the other hand, Chollas are the only cactus species with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths, which are typically vibrant and multicolored, give the cactus its characteristic appearance.
The branches of prickly pears, also members of the Opuntia genus, appear to be pads rather than cylindrical joints. Prickly pears are a type of cactus. Opuntia is distinguished from other succulents by the presence of clusters of thin, microscopic spines known as glochids. Glochids can be yellow or red in color, and they separate readily from the pads or stems of the plant. They are found slightly above the cluster of ordinary spines. Once they become embedded in the skin, glochids are notoriously difficult to spot and even more challenging to extricate.
Cholla cactus is found in all of the scorching deserts that make up the American Southwest; however, distinct cactus species have developed adaptations that allow them to thrive in various environments and elevation ranges. The majority need coarse and rocky soil with good drainage and can only grow on slopes or flats. Others require steep, rocky slopes at the foothills of mountains, while still others have adapted to live in the forests of mountains.
The majority of cholla cacti have flowers that are orange or greenish-yellow in hue. However, the flowers can vary in color even within the same species. Depending on the area's climate and other factors, most species bloom during the months of April and June. Stems and joints can be distinguished from one another by their breadth, length, shape, and color, as well as the number of spines and glochids they contain. The height of chollas can range from less than a foot (in the case of the Club or Devil Cholla) to as much as 15 feet. Chollas can take the form of ground creepers, shrubs, or trees (Chain-Fruit Cholla).
The following species' descriptions were derived from data collected from their natural, uncultivated environments.
This cholla is characterized by its pale green color and can be seen in a variety of settings. Sheaths for the spine are often translucent and pale in color. Canthocarpa, coloradensis, gender, major, and Thornberg are the five different varieties of this species.
Cane Cholla Cactus
It develops a robust trunk with purple jointed joints and can grow on the floors of deserts, in grasslands, and on the lower slopes of mountains.
The tallest of the chollas can grow up to 15 feet tall and are covered with sharp spines. They are typically shrubs but can occasionally take on the appearance of trees. The name "chain fruit" comes from the fact that new fruits are added to those that have been there from past seasons, producing a chain that can be up to 2 feet long.
The thinnest of all cholla species and the one that is seen in the Chihuahuan desert the most frequently. The addition of crimson berries gives it a wintery feel.
There are several different species of Devil Cholla, but they are all classified as Club Cholla because their joints are fashioned like clubs and feature distinct tubercles. Sheaths are not present on the spines of devil cholla. All of them have a modest growth rate and frequently create dense mats that might be difficult or impossible to penetrate. Spines can be any hue, but they have the potential to be as sharp as daggers.
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The distinctive yellow or tan spine sheaths of this plant, which typically grows as a low shrub in the harshest deserts, have an orange tip. Only cholla has a grooved surface.
This trunkless variety of cholla has stems that are more robust than those of the Pencil and Christmas chollas. The spines develop in clusters of four and point downward.
The Pencil Cholla is a species of cholla that, like Klein's and Christmas chollas, develops a trunk rather than spreading out like a shrub. Appreciates gravelly and sandy plains, as well as valleys and washes.
This cholla develops as a clump from a tuber covered with bristles and prefers sandy flats and dry lake edges at higher elevations.
This cholla is also known as Silver and Gold cholla due to its sheaths, which can be either white or yellow. This species has many small terminal joints at the terminals of longer ones, and the trunks on these plants are rather short.
This tree-like cactus hybridizes easily with Buckhorn and Cane chollas, making identification difficult due to its forked branches that resemble deer antlers.
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It resembles the fuzzy arms and legs of a Teddy Bear, and you can identify it by its dense, straw-colored spines and yellow to green blossoms. Some people say it looks like a Teddy Bear.
This cholla, which is green and has relatively few spines, is similar to the Cane Cholla, which likewise becomes purple when the temperature drops. Prevalent in the desert flats, as well as in stands of pinyon and juniper.
You'll frequently find these cholla growing as shrubs or mats on plains and grasslands.
This common cholla found in the Colorado Desert has sheaths that are translucent and brown spines that measure one inch.