Cochise County: Cylindropuntia arbuscula, the Arizona Pencil Cholla

The Arizona pencil cholla, Cylindropuntia arbuscula, turned up on our Cochise County property yesterday. Roaming these twenty acres on a fairly regular basis is never enough to “know it all” when it comes to plant life; there’s always something new. This particular bushy cactus–and it is a thorny little bit of vegetation, to be sure–contained more than a few puzzles.

For one thing, it’s known by many different names, both common and scientific. Delange.org lists the following:

Cylindropuntia arbuscula, Cactus Family ( Cactaceae ), Bush Pencil Cholla Cactus. Also Called: Arizona Pencil Cholla, Branched Pencil, Bush Cholla, Pencil Cholla, Chollita, Chumbera, Tasajo, Opuntia hualpaensis, Opuntia vivipara, Opuntia neoarbuscula, Opuntia arbuscula.

There are also many different description details online. This cactus doesn’t seem to want to conform to strict rules. Flowers are, on numerous websites, described as being either red, bronze, or yellow-green. Oh yeah? Ours may have a tinge of yellow in there somewhere, but they’re definitely more green than anything else.

Yellow-green or just plain green?  That is the question for this Arizona pencil cholla flower.

Yellow-green or just plain green? That is the question for this Arizona pencil cholla flower.

Okay, so this bloom does have a yellowish tint to its greenness.  I'm admitting that before my wife accuses me of "male color blindness," one of her set-in-concrete beliefs about my gender.

Okay, so this bloom does have a yellowish tint to its greenness. I’m admitting that before my wife accuses me of “male color blindness,” one of her set-in-concrete beliefs about my gender.

It’s not hard to see why one of the names applied to this cactus is “bush pencil cholla.” It’s definitely bushy in appearance, roughly two feet in height, though apparently the species is known to grow much larger than that.

As a name, bush pencil cholla does make sense.

As a name, bush pencil cholla does make sense.

Okay, so some of those flowers do look pretty yellowish from a distance.

Thorns? Ha. Remember the Crocodile Dundee line when he pulls out his monster blade in response to an attempted mugging? You know, where he says, “…That’s a knife.” Looking this cholla, one has to admit, that’s a thorn.

That's a thorn, all right.

That’s a thorn, all right.

From the day of our arrival on this land in early 2009, we’ve always noted and appreciated the handful of cane cholla plants in the area, so the general “look” of a cholla is not lost on us…and the Arizona pencil cholla does have that “family resemblance.” Colorful, too, with red accents setting off the overall green (and lower down, grayish purple) color scheme.

Who needs flowers to keep the color scheme going?  Not this Arizona pencil cholla with its red accents marking the fruits.

Who needs flowers to keep the color scheme going? Not this Arizona pencil cholla with its red accents marking the fruits.

There were several of these bush cactus plants growing in an area some fifty feet or so in diameter. Have they been there all along, or are they new arrivals? Frankly, there’s no way to be certain. That particular spot is not one I’ve trod upon often if at all in the past; they could have escaped my notice from the get-go. On the other hand, chollas are known to be accomplished hitchhikers, so they could just as easily have ridden in on someone else, either animal or human. We’ll never know. This species is regulated, “salvage restricted,” but the cactus doesn’t care about that; it still rides for free whenever it can.

Either way, they’re here now, and that’s a good thing. Chollas Welcome Here, anytime.