by Bala Chaudhary,
Native Plants Class 2003
Common names: Teddy bear cholla, jumping cholla, silver cholla
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
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
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
Cactus wrens use Teddy bear cholla as nest sites. Also, pack rats use
its spiny joints to guard their nests from enemies (2).
M.L. 2003. http://www.calflora.net Sierra Madre, CA.
2. Epple, A.O. 1995. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona. Guilford,
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 (http://plants.usda.gov).
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.