You may have seen this hairy megaflora shimmering in a golden-brown glow of the hot desert sunset. It has a lazy stem, like an old man trying to stand straight with multiple branches concealed under thousands of spikes upon spikes upon spikes. It has a reputation for being one of the most terrifying foliage in the world, causing woe and pain to any creature that dares cross its path. This is a close-up moment with Cylindropuntia fulgida.
Stretching across the arid plains of the Sonoran Desert to parts of the Colorado Desert in South West USA, the Cylindropuntia fulgida grows wildly, stretching its roots to altitudes about 4000 ft above sea level. There are about 30 different species of cacti belonging to the genus Cylindropuntia, with the Fulgida being the most feared.
The Cylindropuntia fulgida is an arborescent plant, meaning it takes the shape of a tree. It has a main cylindrical trunk that holds multiple, low drooping branches. It grows to a height between 6 and 15 ft tall (1.8 and 4.5 meters) and 8 ft (2.4 meters) in diameter, and the entire plant is covered in wart-like projections.
Instead of having leaves, the Cylindropuntia fulgida has 0.5 to 1-inch (1.27 to 2.54 cm) long spines coming out of areoles. There are about 6 to 12 spines in every areole, and the spines have a paper-thin sheath that reflects light, illuminating the plant in silver, gold, white, or tan hues. These spines have a double duty to the plant; to protect it from hungry herbivores and to act as a shield, preventing the plant from overheating in the desert sun.
Jumping Cholla Cactus
During February and March, Cylindropuntia fulgida blossoms yellow-green flowers at the edges of the branches. After each flowering season, the plant produces a red, pear-shaped fruit that looks wrinkled and is spotted with a few spines. These fruits have been lifesavers for bighorn sheep and certain deer species, especially during drought seasons.
The fruits grow off the same stalk every year, creating a hanging fruit chain that can get up to 2 feet (60.96 cm) long. This fruit string gives this plant the colloquial names Hanging Chain Cholla, Chain Fruit Cholla, Cholla Brincadora, Velas de Coyote, and Boxing Glove Cholla. This cactus is also known as Jumping Cholla Cactus from the ease at which the thorny stems break off or ‘jump’ on anything that passes by.
Spiky on the Outside, As Well as the Inside
As if the sharp spikes were not enough to dissuade you from going near the plant, the spikes of the Cylindropuntia fulgida are hollow and have barbs called glochids. When these indented spines attach themselves to any place or surface with moisture, for example, the skin, the glochids curve once they have made contact, interlocking their spines underneath the surface of the skin. Just the thought of it makes you want to wince in pain and agony.
A Challenger For Green Thumbs
As absolutely insane as this plant sounds, it can be the showstopper to break the usual garden plant monotony. The one thing that Cylindropuntia fulgida is picky about is the type of soil it grows in.
This cactus prefers soil with pH levels of between 6.0 and 7.5. Too much acidity or alkalinity in the soil will destroy the roots of the plant. The soil must also be well-draining, because like other succulents, the Cylindropuntia fulgida is very susceptible to root rot.
The Cylindropuntia fulgida is a hard-core, drought-resistant cactus that loves to spend at least 6 hours a day in direct sunlight. This water-once-and-forget-about-it plant does well with short, infrequent drinks of water during the summer and an occasional spritz during winter. When you want to get the best out of your Cylindropuntia fulgida, you could treat your plant to a granular fertilizer that is formulated for succulents and cacti, or good quality, water-soluble fertilizer.
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Next time you are roaming around the desert, keep your eye out for this spiky little creature because wherever it lands if there is moisture, it will immediately start to grow. As mother always said, be careful, don’t bring home strangers!
Thank you for reading! Be sure to check out similar articles from the cacti species like “Giant Barrel Cactus – Echinocactus Platyacanthus” or even “Mysterious Christmas Cactus – Schlumbergera Bridgesii“.
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Richard | Editor-in-chief at Succulent City
Hey everyone! I’m Richard. Welcome to my blog, which is all about succulents, cacti, and a bit about air plants. Ten years back, in 2013, I began my journey with succulents. It started as a simple hobby, crafting and selling charming succulent-themed pins and decorations. But as time passed, my fascination with these remarkable plants grew, and I gained extensive knowledge about them. Therefore, Succulent City is the blog as you see it is now. Enjoy your visit and happly planting!