Teddy bear cholla (pronounced “KOY-ya”) is a common North American native within its range. From a distance,
the densely intermingled golden spines produce soft-looking, rounded branch tips that look
a little like, well, teddy bears. They
are found in deserts at elevations between 100-300' (30-91 m).
Identification: These multiply branched cacti are up
to 6½' (2 m) high, sometimes looking like trees, other times like shrubs. Each stem
segment is 1½-7" (4-18 cm) long and ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm) in diameter, and greenish-purple to
purple in color. The areoles from which the spines appear are tan to brown; spines are
in groups of 6-8, ⅜-⅝" (1-1.8 cm) long. The spines are yellow to golden in color, and so
dense that they intermingle with each other, producing a golden (or silvery) fuzzy appearance that looks soft
from a distance. Flowers are usually yellowish green, but may be yellow, gold, bronze, red, rose, or magenta.
Wrinkled, leathery spineless fruits are yellowish green or reddish in color and less than
¾" (2 cm) long.
These cholla, like their cousins jumping cholla, have a reputation for launching attacks on
I can personally attest to this, having found a good-sized clump embedded in the leather of my
shoe. There are two reasons for
this reputation. First, cholla have glochids, tiny groups of spines that detach easily and
implant themselves into skin, causing immediate irritation.
The second reason is that small portions of chollas routinely break off, littering the desert floor,
attaching easily to passing victims, and growing new cacti wherever they end up.