Saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea )

The Saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea ) is perhaps one of the most iconic member of the cacti family in the south west desert, and located primarily in Arizona. The giant desert guardian stands watch over the hot dry desert and exudes a quiet nobility which matches its environment perfectly. The slow growing giants can reach heights exceeding 35 feet in height. These pinnacles of stature are due in no doubt to their long life span of up to 200 years. The largest known Individual was measured at 78 feet tall before it was toppled in 1986 from high winds.

A monster Saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea) - Photo by Sister Cecilia Joseph Wight
A monster Saguaro ( Carnegiea gigantea) – Photo by Sister Cecilia Joseph Wight
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Pencil Cholla ( Cylindropuntia ramosissima )

Pencil Cholla ( Cylindropuntia ramosissima ), also known as Diamond Cholla, is a medium sized cacti species which is mainly categorized from long narrow body segments and sparse spine density. The stems are green in appearance and dry grey in color. This species is commonly found in Arizona, California and Nevada at elevations below 4,000 feet.

Pencil Cholla ( Cylindropuntia ramosissima )
Pencil Cholla ( Cylindropuntia ramosissima )

This species of cactus typically grows between three and five feet tall. It is found in well-drained sandy, or rocky soils on flats, bajadas, and moderate slopes in the lower mountains. The skin surface if green in appearance and the surface had a cross-hatch or diamond pattern which give this plant its alias, diamond cholla.  Pencil Cholla will bloom in early summer and boasts a smaller flower which is orange, yellow or red in color. The flowers are about the size of a quarter and compared with other cactus species are rather unassuming. This cactus is common in Creosote Bush Scrub and Joshua Tree Woodlands.

The pencil cholla is perhaps the best representative of the harsh desert. Compare to other species, it is harsh and dry in appearance and looks like it is baked in the desert heat.

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Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )

Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea ), or grizzlybear prickly pear, is a fairly common cactus with a wide spread distribution across the desert south. Although their are varieties, this cactus is characterized by the high density of its spines. The spines may be white or pale yellow and reddish in color at the base. The spines may vary is length between one and seven inches in length.

Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )
Mojave prickly pear ( Opuntia erinacea )

The pads of this cactus are medium in size at three to fives inches across and grey-green in appearance. The plant flowers in the spring between May and July. The flowers boast color varieties of yellow to rose.

The cactus is low lying and grows in medium sized clumps which are no more the two feet in height. The reach of the cacti is known to grow up to ten feet across. This plant flourishes in Creosote Bush Scrub, Pinyon-Juniper and Joshua Tree woodlands and are known to grow at up to 7,000 feet in elevation. Typically, this plant is found in well-drained, sandy or gravel soil types. They can be found in washes, canyons and along the slopes of lower mountains.

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Teddybear Cholla ( Cylindropuntia bigelovii )

The soft bristly cactus spines give the Teddybear Cholla its furry, cute appearance and mask the ferocious defense of this desert cactus. This member of the cactus family typically grows between 3 and 5 feet in height. Its body is built utilizing highly segmented branches which easily detached or broken when anything bushes against them giving the cactus the nickname “Jumping Cholla”

Teddybear Cholla ( Cylindropuntia bigelovii ) photographed near Nelson Nevada
Teddybear Cholla ( Cylindropuntia bigelovii ) photographed near Nelson Nevada
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Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)

Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa) is a common species of cactus which is native to the southwestern United States including Nevada, Arizona and California. The Silver cholla is a larger cactus which is known to grow in excess of 6 feet tall.

Silver Cholla waiting for an incoming storm.
Silver Cholla waiting for an incoming storm.

This species can be found rather easily and quite common in the Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert and the the Colorado Desert. It is typically found in dry desert washes, Joshua Tree wood lands (as photographed above ) or pinyon-juniper woodland environments.

The body of the cactus is segmented by joints which are typically four to eight inches in length. The joints and body of the cactus are densely covered with spines about 1 inch long with are covered in a papery sheath. The spines are typically yellow in color, which contrast nicely against the green skin of the cactus body. This spiny armor not only protects the cactus, but is also forties the nests of the Cactus Wren and other animals who may seek shelter within this plant.

This cholla typically blooms in spring depending upon conditions. The flowers are green in color however some variants may contain yellow, pink or brown. The lumpy, tan-colored fruit hosts the seeds for germination and is known to have a foul scent.