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. 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.

9 thoughts on “Cochise County: Cylindropuntia arbuscula, the Arizona Pencil Cholla

  1. If one decides to hitchhike over here to my front yard, it will be welcomed and will have a rock border put around it. That will keep us from mowing it over and killing it. I would love to have at least one of every native cactus in my front yard. I think it would be an awesome display. Those are very pretty and would look good with my 7-8 that I have out there. I have uprooted a few from the back, because the stupid puppies keep getting thorns in their feet. They are also very pretty. I am still waiting for you to find out what those white flowers that bloom along the side of the road all summer are. I love them and have not managed to get one to grow in my yard yet. I do see them along the road not far away and may succumb to transplanting one yet. I have tried to find the seeds, but have not been able too. They must be as tiny as poppy seeds.

  2. Hm. Yeah, I should pay more attention to those white flowers. I know I’ve written about them before–maybe clear back on HubPages–but don’t believe I ever ID’d them. Now that you’ve gotten my attention, I’ll need to start pulling over and taking pictures for a fresh start….

    One of the pencil chollas might decide to hitchhike your way, but only if some northbound traveler (think illegal immigrant hoofing it) stumbles to close to one on the way through our property. We don’t ever get close enough to any chollas to pick up hitchhikers. Just take pictures and admire them from a distance. Surely don’t blame you for uprooting those in your back yard, though. It’s interesting, how domestic dogs seem utterly ignorant about such sticker things, yet the ultimate survivor coyote never seems to pull up lame. Or maybe the dumb ones just die young.

  3. The reason that domestic dogs do not pay attention to things like cactus thorns, is because they have been domesticated for so long that they have lost many survival instincts. Mine do seem to be learning about the thorns since they have been here. They are learning to pull them out with their teeth. Very rarely any more do I need to assist them with ridding themselves of thorns. Once in a while, one of them will come in limping. Usually they stop before they get to the house and will pick them out of a paw. When we first moved here, I was pulling them out about once a day. Now it is less than once a month. It could have been that they did not know about them, since there were none in Tennessee. The mesquite thorns are the only ones still in the back, unless something has come up in the last month.

  4. That makes total sense. I did know about domesticated dogs having lost so many survival instincts, but it’s good to hear they’re also capable of relearning those skills. Now if I could only come up with my own survival instinct regarding chiggers…. (Actually, I have, to some degree, but they still get me every summer. Thought I already had one this morning, but Pam asked if maybe it might be a spider bite instead–which it clearly was, once I thought about it. “Venom spread” covered roughly a two inch diameter on my inner right thigh, with no crusty tower like the chiggers manufacture, just red site-splotch and serum ooze.)

  5. Something bit me on the forehead in my sleep last night. With the number of flying things in here last night, I would hesitate to pick one. I even got dive bombed by one of those beetles (Junebugs or Japanese beetles) after I was in bed. I was trying to read myself to sleep and they were attracted to the tablet light.

  6. Heh. Those buzz-bomber beetles are real attention getters, for sure. I got a new bite (noticed today) on my left arm, right at the elbow, and don’t know what that was, either. It’s acting like a smaller version of the thigh bite. Did have a red big-headed harvester ant crawling on the back of my left hand later, when I was out doing chores. Don’t believe it bit before I brushed it off. Summer “chomping” mysteries are definitely more frequent around here than up north, especially during the monsoon months.

  7. That is a pretty plant, Ghost. I’d say the flowers are more green than anything. And those thorns! Man, they could put a real hurtin’ on ya!

  8. They could, couldn’t they? Although they’re widely enough spaced that most likely you’d only get stabbed if you were wandering around in the desert in the middle of the night without a flashlight…in which case, there are plenty of other possibilities to consider. And I agree with you; the flowers look mostly green to me, too.

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