Teddy-Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

Teddy-Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

The teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) is a cholla cactus native to California, Arizona, and Nevada (USA) and northwestern Mexico.

The plant has a soft appearance due to its solid mass of very formidable spines that completely cover the stems, leading to its sardonic nickname of “teddy bear”.

The teddy-bear cholla is an erect plant, standing 1 to 5 ft (0.30 to 1.52 m) tall with a distinct trunk. The branches are at the top of the trunk and are nearly horizontal. Lower branches typically fall off, and the trunk darkens with age. The silvery-white spines, which are actually a form of leaf, almost completely obscure the stem with a fuzzy-looking, but impenetrable, defense. The spines are 1 in (2.5 cm) long and are covered with a detachable, paper-like sheath.

The yellow-green flowers of this cactus emerge at the tips of the stems in May and June, and the fruits that follow usually have no viable seed. Flowers are usually 1.375 in (3.49 cm) in length. The fruit is 0.75 in (1.9 cm) in diameter, tuberculate, and may or may not have spines. These cacti produce few seeds, as the plant usually reproduces from dropped stems. These stems are often carried for some distance by sticking to the hair of animals. Often small “forests” of these chollas form that are largely clones of one individual.

Like its cousin the jumping cholla, the stems of this cactus detach easily and the ground around a mature plant is often littered with scattered cholla balls and small plants starting where these balls have rooted. When a piece of this cholla sticks to an unsuspecting person, a good method to remove the cactus is with a hair comb. The spines are barbed, and hold on tightly. Desert pack rats such as the Desert Woodrat gather these balls around their burrows, creating a defense against predators.

The teddy-bear cholla is extremely combustible.

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About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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