Cylindropuntia bigelovii Engelmann

by Bala Chaudhary, Native Plants Class 2003
Common names:
Teddy bear cholla, jumping cholla, silver cholla
Family: Cactaceae
Synonymy: Opuntia bigelovii (5).
Etymology: The specific epithet commemorates Dr. John Milton Bigelow, professor of botany at Detroit Medical College. Bigelow collected plants throughout the Western U.S. under Whipple in the Pacific Railroad Survey of 1853-1854 (1). The common names refer to its fuzzy cuddly appearance and the fact that its joints detach easily, or “jump”, when brushed against.

Growth form:
Shrubby to treelike growing 5’ tall and occasionally up to 9’ tall (2).
Roots: Detached joints of Teddy bear cholla root quickly in desert soil (2).
Joints: Light green to bluish green, cylindrical; to 10” long, 2 1/2 “ in diameter; form arms at top of main stem (2).
Spines: Silvery to golden when young, black when old; dense, backward-facing barbs; to 1” long (2,5). Papery sheaths cover the spines (3).
Flowers: Pale green, greenish-white, to yellowish green flowers streaked with white or lavender. Flowers can be up to 1 ½” wide and occur near the end of the joint (2).
Fruit: Yellowish egg-shaped, knobby fruit ¾” long and 3/8” wide (2).
Similar species: Twenty-eight other Opuntia species occur in Arizona and can be distinguished by spine sheath coloration, joint shape, cylinder size, and fruit and flower color (2).

Life history:
Perennial cactus. Teddy bear cholla has joints that fall off or are knocked off and then root easily creating large stands (3).
Native/introduced: Native to Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mohave deserts of the Western United States and Northwest Mexico (3).
Photosynthetic pathway: CAM (4)
Phenology: Flowers bloom February to May although most reproduction is vegetative (2).
Distribution: Sunny, dry, rocky slopes of deserts at elevations from 100ft to 3500ft. Found in Arizona in the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mohave deserts; also in southern California and extreme southern Nevada (2, 3).

Cactus wrens use Teddy bear cholla as nest sites. Also, pack rats use its spiny joints to guard their nests from enemies (2).


1. Charters, M.L. 2003. Sierra Madre, CA.

2. Epple, A.O. 1995. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. Guilford, CT.

3. Fischer, P.C. 1989. 70 Common Cacti of the Southwest. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, Salt Lake City, UT.

4. Kearney T.H. and Peebles R.H. 1960. Arizona Flora. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

5. USDA, NRCS. 2002. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 ( National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.