Beware the Teddy Bear Cholla
Not a snuggly teddy bear
Do you remember the Venus flytrap craze? Did you, like me, put wriggling bugs between the toothed and fleshy lips of the plant and watch the insects slowly disappear as the jaws levered shut? A meat-eating plant, how creepy and how thrilling. Here in the Sonoran desert we have an equally formidable plant, though not a flesh eater. Rather it sinks barbed needles into the flesh of man and beast, all in the name of propagation. Desert dwellers know I am talking about the teddy bear cholla, also know as the jumping cholla. (Choy-ah) The jointed segments of this cactus are so densely spined that you can barely see through to the plant’s surface. The barbed spines don’t pull out easily, and if you attempt to grab the bristling offender it will soon be stuck in your hand as well. Start to get the picture? This is not a plant to tangle with. During these cooler months (when we are out hiking, golfing, birdwatching) the joints of the terminal segments of the teddy bear cholla become loose, and can be dislodged with the gentlest nudge or even a stiff wind. Unsuspecting dogs often pick up cholla fragments from the ground just by trotting past. Even wiley wild animals will brush too close to a cholla and end up with a painful passenger or two. Once the animal (or person) has managed to dislodge the cactus joint, usually some ways down the trail, the segment will quickly root in sandy or rocky soil. Even without the help of carriers the terminal joints of a teddy bear cholla eventually fall to the ground and root. This process can result in dense cholla forests, all replicas of a single plant. Now that we all know not to get too close, I must point out that a stand of teddy bear cholla can be beautiful. Particularly in the horizontal light of morning the new blond growth seems lit from within. Cactus wrens have a special affinity for cholla plants, constructing well-fortified nests in the cacti. Packrats also make use of the cholla joints, using them as protective barriers around their nests.