The Sonoran desert can be beautiful to look at when cacti bloom. However, do not be deceived, some cacti species can be nasty when you get closer. One of these is the Jumping Cholla cactus. The cactus gets its name from its habit of ‘jumping’ from its parent plant to the ground or onto the skin of any animal that passes by. This is a unique adaptation that helps the cactus procreate and multiply in different locations. Once the spine is ripe, it easily detaches from the main plant and will begin rooting once it hits the ground. The jumping cholla cactus is one of the largest cacti in the desert, rivaling the likes of the giant saguaro.
So, how do you grow the jumping cholla? Considering its natural ability to detach from the parent plant onto the ground, growing a jumping cholla should not be much of a problem. The cactus can be propagated from its stem, seeds or offsets. It grows best under direct sunlight and the soil should be dry and well draining to avoid root rot. Once the plant is mature enough it grows some little sharp spines. Avoid pricks and injuries to the skin when handling it by wearing thick gloves. The Jumping Cholla works well when grown together due to their unique growth pattern.
Facts about the Jumping Cholla
- The jumping cholla can live for decades in their natural habitat and even longer when grown at home.
- Unlike most other cacti, they thrive best under direct sunlight. Since they do not need much water, they are tolerant to neglect and can be idea for those who travel frequently.
- A mature jumping cholla will easily attach to anything that comes close. When it gets in contact with the skin, it is not toxic but can cause a painful irritation. As such, consider keeping them away from reach of children or any curious pets.
- They are excellent complements to other indoor succulents like yucca, aloe and agave.
- The jumping Cholla can grow to a height of up to 15 feet.
- Their blooming season comes between April and June. Its star-shaped flowers come in warm colors like red, pink, orange and yellow-green.
- The jumping cholla produces some green fruits after the flowering season. The fruits would hang down from the branches. These spineless fruits also have fertile fruits that can be used to propagate the cactus.
Types of Jumping Cholla
The jumping cholla is a general name usually used interchangeably in reference to the Cylindropuntia fulgida (Chain fruit cholla) and the Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddy bear Cholla). Both varieties feature joints that detach from the main plant and hold on to anything in the vicinity.
Cylindropuntia fulgida (Chain fruit cholla)
This jumping cactus stands out with its cylindrical jointed stems. These stems usually stand about 8 to 10 feet tall. The light green stems feature some knotty ridges. This variety blooms magenta purple flowers that grow to about 1.5 inches wide. The chain fruit cactus gets its name from the growth pattern of its fruits. Its produces its fruits persistently and its aerosols will keep churning out even more fruits, thus forming a chain of fruits.
Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddy bear Cholla)
The Teddy bear Cholla features some jointed stems, 2 to 10 inches long. This stem would usually be hidden in a dense array of spines, 7 to 10 inches long. Its branches are not truly cylindrical thanks to the raised areas, hereby called tubercles.
This Jumping Cholla variety features some greenish yellow flowers about 1.5 inches wide. The flowering season is then followed by some deciduous, fleshy fruits.
Propagating Jumping Cholla cactus
Jumping Cholla cactus is an easy growing plant as long as propagation is done right. You can easily propagate this cactus, either by seeds or by its cuttings. However, while propagating by seed can be a sure way to get a pure species; this may not be the best method if you are looking to get quick results. Seeds take time to germinate, and when they do, their growth is slow.
Propagation though cutting is a popular method for the cholla cactus. This can be done easily using is stem offshoots. These stem offshoots grow some weak points where you can easily pluck out and grow in a separate pot.
The Cholla cactus is a sensitive plant, and you do not want to gamble during propagation. Some of the notable factor to take into consideration before propagation is the temperatures, and the season. Ensure that the temperatures are at least 60°F (16°C). These are ideal temperatures that will allow successful rooting.
When taking your cuttings, always ensure that you get the specimen from healthy plants that represent the best of that species. Avoid taking cuttings with dents, blemishes, bruises or those generally looking shriveled or diseased. A healthy cutting will translate into a healthy plant that may not need much attention once it matures. All you will need to do in such case is to water once in a while and keep watch on pests and bugs.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to propagate a Jumping Cholla:
- Remove your chosen stem offshoot from the parent plant using a sharp and disinfected knife. Alternatively, you can simply snap it off from the joint using your hands. Always use thick gloves when handling that Cholla cactus to avoid pricks from its spines.
- For cuts, always ensure that you cut of your offshoot in a slanted manner. This is important in helping protect the parent plant from water collecting at the cut area.
- Dip the base of your cutting in sulphur or other common rooting compounds to improve the chances of rooting.
- Let the cutting dry off for a few days until the base is callused. This is an important step to help avoid cases of the cutting rotting once it is planted. It is also important in helping protect you cactus from common soil-borne diseases.
- Once the cutting is callused, get some good soil mix. You can make this at home or purchase the commercial versions. A good soil mix should contain at least 50 percent peat or compost and 50 percent pumice or perlite.
- Get an ideal container and fill it with your soil mix. Your container should be well draining with drainage holes that help drain excess water.
- Place your soil deep enough into the soil to avoid it tipping over. Ideally, the cutting should be covered at least 3 inches into the soil.
- Apply some little water sparingly if the soil is too dry
- Position your container in a bright location. This could be by the window or balcony where sunlight can easily reach.
With the right propagation, you should notice some signs of rooting within a few weeks. A growing tip will be a good sign that roots are already developed and that the plant can now tap nutrients from the soil.
Watering the Jumping cholla cactus
The Jumping Cholla cactus may be a desert plant, but this does not mean that it needs no water. Just like any other plant, the cholla cactus needs water for better nutrient uptake and healthy growth. The only difference in this case is that it does not need much water as it can tolerate longer periods of drought. Based on this, watering should be done in moderation. Overwatering your Jumping Cholla cactus can lead to root rot, and you do not want to go this route. It is better to under-water than over-water the cactus as the latter can be detrimental to its survival.
For a Jumping Cholla, watering should be done regularly for the first few months as the plant gets used to the new environment. Once it settles in, watering can be done less often. During your watering regime, always ensure that the top one inch of the soil feels dry before you water it. The frequency of watering can, however, be determined by the weather conditions of the region. For instance, hotter regions may need more frequent watering compared to colder areas thanks to the high percentage of water loss through evaporation.
Just like any other cacti, light is an important element for the Jumping Cholla. This is especially so during the first stages of its life. As such, you may see the need to place it in an area where it can tap maximum sunlight. Such locations may include a south or southeast facing window, a conservatory or even a greenhouse in case of an outdoor garden. However, in cases where access to natural light is a challenge, you can opt for artificial sources of light in the name of grow lights. These can replace the need for sunlight and you can purchase from any electronics store.
Access to light for at least 10 to 14 hours a day is recommended to the jumping cholla. This light comes in handy to help trigger chemical reactions for the plant to produce energy and food. However, since the cactus also needs to make its own food through the CAM photosynthesis, it also needs some dark periods for better development.
The jumping cholla cactus may be adapted to thrive in the barren lands with little nutrients, but this does to mean it does not need some fertilizer when grown at home. Feed your jumping cholla with a balanced granular fertilizer on a regular basis. In this case, you care better off with fertilizer specifically made for cacti and other succulents. However, you can also use water-soluble, low nitrogen fertilizer on the plant. This will help maintain a consistent flow of nutrients to the plant without compromising on the plant’s survival.
Having said this, it is also important to note that too much of the fertilizer can be detrimental to the health and growth of the Jumping Cholla. Too much fertilizer can cause the plant to become weak and eventually droop over. The best fertilizer in this case would be an NPK fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-10 or better still 10-10-10 but diluted to ¼ of its strength.
The best time to fertilize your cactus would be during your watering regime. Here, you will dissolve one tablespoon of your soluble fertilizer in one gallon of water.
Repotting the Jumping Cholla cactus
With the right care, your Jumping Cholla will grow fast, and within no time, you will see the need to repot. Repotting is necessary for two main reasons:
- To help get the plant some fresh, fertile soil free from diseases and pests
- To help avoid too much crowding of the root once the container becomes too small
These two factors are aimed at ensuring your cactus remains healthy and strong all trough its lifetime. When repotting, consider the type of container to use. For hot areas, you are better using a plastic container as this helps maintain soil moisture for much longer. On the other hand, taller varieties of the cholla cactus may need clay pots as these absorb excess water thus saving the plant from root rot occasioned by over-watering.
When repotting the jumping cholla cactus, ensure you brush off excess soil from previous container before repotting in the fresh soil. For outdoor gardens, however, you do not need to do any repotting. All you need to do is keep monitoring through proper watering and fertilization. Once the plant achieves enough offshoots, it will be time to propagate into new plants.
Pests and diseases
The jumping cholla may be resistant to many pests and diseases but it is mostly susceptible to cochineal scale insects. You will easily notice them thanks to their sticky white appearance. These insects eat up the plant by sucking its sap, thus causing some white and brown patches. For outdoor gardens, you can easily do away with these insects by spraying it with a garden hose. For indoor gardens, however, you may see the need to use a mixture of water and alcohol. Apply these on the plant’s stem focusing on the affected areas. Within a few days, the insects will be no more.
Another notable pest for the jumping Cholla is the cactus longhorn beetle. These are usually about one inch long and adults are shiny black with distinctive white patches on their antennae. They attack the cactus by burrowing into the stems and laying their eggs. This leads to some black rusty deposits on the stem. In extreme cases, the larvae can attack the roots causing the plant to droop over and die.
The longhorn beetle can be easily eradicated by handpicking from the stem. In cases where the population is high, chemical control can be applied.
Common diseases that can affect the jumping cholla include root rot and stem rot. This is mostly caused by poor watering by either over-watering or under-watering.
Is a Jumping Cholla cactus edible?
The Jumping cholla has edible fruits and buds. However, considering the natural appearance of the cactus, it is adapted to protect itself from predators. As such, you may need to work harder before getting something edible from the plant.
The jumping cholla produces fruits that are edible all year round. These can be eaten, either raw or boiled. In case you want to eat them raw, you can only eat the insides. However, boiling it will mean that you can eat the fruit as a whole. Usually, the larger fruit varieties are better-tasting compared to the smaller ones.
Cholla buds bloom in late April or early May. These buds are highly nutritious, low in calories and high in calcium and iron.
Whether you are harvesting its buds or fruits, it is important to note that jumping Cholla has glochids that can be dangerous to the skin. These, almost invisible spinelets can easily prick into your skin. As such, it is advisable that you brush off any traces before picking or cooking.
Whether you are looking to plant it for aesthetical reasons or for food, the cholla cactus is an interesting plant. As much I may be used as an indoor plant, it is best suited for an outdoor garden. This is all thanks to its ‘jumping’ tendency that can be uncomfortable around children and curious pets. When growing indoors, ensure you prune or cut off excess offshoots to prevent the plant from overgrowing. This should be the perfect opportunity to propagate and get even more plants in your garden. This is a pretty awesome plant that can thrive even in the harshest of conditions. Just ensure they experience the right warmth, regular watering, full sunlight and pest free conditions. With the right care, these cacti can produce bright flowers that can help bring pomp and color to both your outdoor and indoor landscapes.