Huggable Death

“Teddy Bear” Cholla Cactus

“Teddy Bear” Cholla Cactus

Their scientific name is Cylindropuntia, and they are beautiful but deadly. I am referring to what are commonly called cholla cactus (pronounced CHO-yah). One finds them all over the deserts of the Southwest, particularly in California, and in parts of Mexico’s Sonora desert.

On one hand, chollas can be astonishingly beautiful. Even on a cloudy day, their silvery green spines shine as if from an inner light. One almost wants to hug them. Beware: The spines are barbed. In no time at all, the desert neophyte can sport almost as many spines as the cactus.

There are many varieties of cholla: The above looks like the notorious Teddy Bear or Jumping Cholla (based on the false perception that the spines jump onto their victim even if the victim does not quite brush against them.)

They make wonderful photographic subject—just so long as you remember to keep your distance.