Chain Fruit Cholla
1 gallon; 5 gallon
Spring - Summer
The chain fruit cholla looks as much like a tree in the desert as a cactus possibly can. It has a central trunk from which sprout many spiny "branches". It is commonly found in dry, sandy soils of bajadas, valleys floors, and plains of the Sonoran and Chihuahua Desert, south Arizona and northwest Mexico. It is found at elevations up to 4,000 feet above sea level. It has many segmented, irregular, drooping branches. These are covered with a dense layer of sharp spines. These spines have a straw-colored sheath when young which turns a dark gray as they mature. The sheath acts to reflect sunlight and prevent over heating. As the cholla gets older the spines fall off and leave a rough and scaly bark on the trunk and old branches. It is the largest of the cholla, and can grow to a height of 15 feet, and be 6 feet across. The segmented branches have light-green leaves about 1/2 inch to 1 inch long when they are young. One inch long white and pink flowers streaked with lavender bloom from spring through summer. The flowers bloom at the end of the branches and on old fruit. The pear shaped fruit is about 1.5 inches long and half as wide. Clusters of these fruits sometimes stay attached for many years. New flowers will bloom on them every year and the chains grow longer with every year, sometimes as long as 2 feet. That is why they are called chain fruit cholla.
The chain fruit cholla is also called jumping cholla (not to be confused with the Teddy Bear Cholla, Cylindropuntia bigelovii) because the segments break off easily when brushed up against and stick to you, giving you the impression that the cactus jumped at you. They attach themselves to desert animals and are dispersed for short distances. The ground around a cholla is usually covered with segments that have fallen off the parent. The fruit is not always fertile and the cholla relies mainly on fallen stem joints and fruit to take root and grow new plants. During droughts animals like the Bighorn Sheep rely on the juicy fruit for food and water. Large forests of chain fruit cholla grow in Arizona. The cactus is not considered to be vulnerable or endangered, mostly because they grow in inaccessible and hostile places of the desert.
Growing Plants in the Desert — Important Information
The information presented here is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate and based on my research from reliable sources, observations I have made of plants growing in my, and other gardens I have visited, and observations of the plants in their native habitats. I would appreciate your feedback and experience to help me educate others!
Cacti: In my experience, cacti are much happier in the filtered shade here in the low desert of the Coachella Valley. Colors are more vibrant and they bloom more profusely, especially the non-native varieties. If you pay attention to how our native barrel and beavertail opuntia grow in the wild, it is frequently tucked in the rocks under creosote or another shrub.
Light Requirements: I have found that in our desert (Sonoran/Colorado) “full sun” plants can take and appreciate the late afternoon filtered sun, especially in the hot summer months.