Jumping Cactus | 11 Things You Need to Know

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Are you the type of gardening enthusiast who loves to collect different cactuses? Are you ridiculously attracted to the aura of a jumping cactus? Or, while you were exploring a desert, did something latch onto your legs and sting so bad that you almost cried out?

In either case, you might know about the beautiful jumping cactus, also known as the jumping cholla, but if you’re unaware, here is a detailed article about this enticing yet irritating cactus breed.

Jumping Cactus 11 Things You Need to Know

The jumping cactus is well known for its dangerous thorns, which can latch onto anyone passing by within 1-2 meters of the plant and sting so hard that it might cause your skin to tear up. Therefore, it is advisable to take good care while approaching or moving by a jumping cactus plant.

Also, this cactus breed has a beautiful golden or silvery color, mainly due to the thorns covered in a paper-like sheath. This casts a spell on exotic plant collectors and gardeners who would want to keep a specimen of this plant in their gardens.

Let’s have a look into the notable characteristics of the jumping cactus.

The Jumping Cactus

The jumping cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida), also known as the jumping cholla, is a perennial shrub and a part of the cactus family, which is native to the Sonoran Desert in North America, extending from Arizona in the U.S.A to Baja California in Mexico. Outside the native range, we can find them in Australia, South Africa, and Pacific Islands.

These cactuses vary in size, from lower branching cacti to smaller trees with almost a 10 feet height. The leaves are reduced to spines due to the scarcity of water in the deserts. Moreover, they have small flowers, mostly pink or magenta, and open late in the afternoon.

The Jumping Cactus

The main feature of these cacti is the barbed spines on the surface, also known as glochidia, that are difficult to remove when attached to human or animal skin and impart a painful sensation. These spines are white or golden in color and are easily detached when the plant comes in contact with anyone, thus the name ‘jumping cholla.’

Does the Jumping Cactus Actually Jump?

You must have heard of rumors or myths about the jumping cholla and must be wondering, “does the jumping cactus actually jump?” The answer is no, and this ‘apparent’ fact is not at all factual.

This myth started when people imagined that the thorns jumped on their bodies and stung them. However, the misconception was cleared with time. It was discovered that the stem and thorns attached to the passerby as a mode of vegetative reproduction.

Jumping cactuses look beautiful and emit an off-white sparkle, but if you get stung by it once, you will surely remember to keep your distance from these plants. The stings from the plant can be quite distressing and can cause itchiness, irritation, and even deep cuts.

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The main reason these plants are said to “jump” is the loosely attached stems and thorns that attach to people or animals passing by as they walk close to the cacti. You won’t even feel the thorns sticking to your body, but it can cause a lot of pain while coming in contact with your skin.

Impressively enough, the loose joints of the cactus help in self-defense and the formation of a new cactus plant. This happens when the dead stems fall around the adult plant and form roots that seep deep into the sand in search of a water source. Thus, more new cacti sprout from near the main plant, forming a cacti colony, making it one of the most fearsome and dangerous cacti available in the world.

Varieties of Jumping Cacti

There are different varieties of cholla cacti. Some have different colors, like the Christmas cholla (red in color) or the silver cholla (white in color). They can also bear fruits, but in most jumping cacti plants, the fruits are not edible.

Varieties of Jumping Cacti

Keep in mind, the fruits of jumping cholla do not ripe over time. They remain attached to the stems of the plants for months, and sometimes, the new flowers bloom on top of the old fruits, thus forming chain-like structures. This is the reason why jumping cholla cactuses are also known as “hanging chain cholla.”

11 Facts About Jumping Cactus

11 Facts About Jumping Cactus

Here are some interesting facts about jumping cactuses that the better half of DIY gardeners would not know:

#1. Origin of the Name “Jumping Cactus”

The stems or thorns of jumping cholla detach when passed by. These are found attached to the clothes and skin of the passersby, both humans, and animals.
Experts claim that the thorns and stems sense an urge to “jump on” the passersby, hence the name.

#2. Cactus Stems are the Main Parts of the Plant

Cactus Stems are the Main Parts of the Plant

The stems of the jumping cholla cactus are cylindrical in shape and succulent, which help in water storage and less transpiration (water loss from plants due to excessive heat). These stems also help in photosynthesis, wherein they harness the energy of the sun to produce food from water and carbon dioxide. All in all, they are instrumental in the rare formation of flowers and fruits.

#3. Jumping Cactus can Glow

The spines of the jumping cactus are covered with a thin sheath that can give off gold, silver, or pearly white gleam. During the day, the plant reflects the sunlight, thus giving off a bright and shiny color. This helps the cacti attract animals so that spores can attach to the animal’s body parts, thus helping vegetative propagation.

Jumping Cactus can Glow

#4. They can form a Forest of Needles

The jumping cactus often grows collectively like the reefs in oceans, resulting in the formation of a canopy, or a bush-like structure, thus forming a forest of needles. Both humans and animals should stay away from these bushy structures due to their sharp spines, which can cause irritation to the skin and cut deep into the flesh.

#5. Their Fruit Hangs like a Chain

Their Fruit Hangs like a Chain

This cactus variety produces a pear-shaped fruit that hangs from the stems of the plant. New flowers grow on the fruits of the previous season, thus forming fresh fruits, which results in the formation of hanging chains that can be up to 2 feet long.

As a result, the jumping cactus is known as “hanging chain cholla” due to this characteristic feature.

#6. The Thorns are not Poisonous

Many people fear that the thorns from the jumping cactus might be poisonous. However, they are not at all poisonous or infectious. The itching or pain caused is solely due to the pointy and sharp nature of the thorns or the plant’s branches.

Tip: If the thorn remains embedded in your skin for too long, there’s a slight chance of risking infections.

#7. The Plant is an Essential Source of Food for Animals

The Plant is an Essential Source of Food for Animal

These cacti serve as an essential food source for the desert animals, such as rats or moles who live in the desert sands.

Although the fruits from the cactus are not entirely edible for humans, they can be a good food source in extreme scenarios.

Also, since the cactus are fleshy and succulent, it holds a lot of water in the stems, thus helping animals such as deer and bighorn sheep to survive prolonged periods of droughts.

Also Read: Peruvian Apple Cactus Facts and Information

#8. These Plants are being Left to Flourish.

Owing to the harsh environments in which the jumping cactus grow, these plants are way out of reach of any kind of fauna. This poses a problem for the cactus to undergo vegetative reproduction.

Thus, the spines of the plant have evolved in such a way as to hitch to any animal or human, even due to a slight nudge. This helps in increasing the reproduction rate of the jumping cactus.

#9. The Cactus has a Dense Spiny Coat for Protection

The spines or thorns on the body of the jumping cactus act as a shield.

This shield plays a crucial role in regulating the plant’s body temperature for survival, especially during arid conditions and against hungry herbivores.

The Cactus has a Dense Spiny Coat for Protection

#10. Young Jumping Cactus Plants Grow without External Agents.

When a mature jumping cactus plant grows, it keeps shedding the dead stems and thorns, and the ground is covered with them. Young plants start to grow from these dead stems that fall from the adult plant and form an enormous colony of the cacti.

#11. They are Big and Beautiful

They are Big and Beautiful

Like their cactus relative, the saguaro cactus, the jumping cholla variety is one of the most beautiful cacti found in the world, despite their annoying tendency to stick on people’s bodies.

In some cholla species, the spines formed due to the reduction of leaves are covered with a waxy coating which helps the plant keep cool against severe heat waves. What’s more, it offers an enchanting glow when dew builds up. Remember, these waxy coatings can sometimes have a golden or silver color according to the time during the day, but it has an ivory white color most of the time.

Growing Cholla Cactus

Growing Cholla Cactus

Are you interested in growing exotic plants or unique cactus varieties? In that case, jumping cactus can be a fine addition to your garden due to its subtle color and characteristic thorns. Since cacti are primarily found in arid regions or deserts, they need special care when grown in a garden or backyard.

Here are some growth factors gardeners must keep in mind while planting the jumping cactus.

  1. Preparing the soil: The ideal soil pH for growing jumping cactuses is between 6.0 to 7.5. If your soil is too acidic, you can use lime, and if the soil is alkaline, you can use some sulfur to balance the pH level.
    In terms of drainage, it is better to avoid well-drained or soggy soil, as the cacti might rot. To prevent this, try mixing sand into the soil and follow up with a round of composting. After this, you need to dig a hole of about 2-3 feet to help accommodate the plant’s root ball, as all cactus variants have long roots.
  2. Watering the plants: Once you have planted the cactus in the hole and covered it, you need to water it regularly.
    During the first month, water the plant for six to eight days to boost its growth until it matures. Further on, you will need to water the plant once a week during summers and 2-3 times a month during winters.
  3. Sunlight: Ideally, plant the cactus outdoors, such as in gardens or lawns, to help it obtain sunlight evenly. Since cacti grow in dry regions and have prolonged exposure to sunlight, homegrown jumping cacti will also require at least six hours of solid daylight a day, all year round.
    For DIY gardeners residing in a tropical area, consider planting the cactus outside, but if you live in a temperate zone, you might want to shift your cactus to a greenhouse.
  4. Fertilizers: Cactuses do not require any fertilizers, but you can use small amounts of a balanced fertilizer during the cactus’ growing period.


To enjoy a pain-free experience while strolling in desert areas, always take necessary precautions with respect to the insects and plants. You surely can admire the plants, but ensure not to get too close to them. The spikes on the grounds originating from the mature plants can latch on your clothing, shoes, socks, and bare skin.

Some tools that might come in handy while wandering in the desert are a large-tooth comb to pull out the spines from your body and forceps, which helps extract the spines in case of deep cuts. If you don’t have any of them, using a sturdy stick can help too.

The jumping cactus is a type of beautiful and semi-dangerous cacti. They are a part of the desert habitat and have cemented their spot as the desert’s perpetual companion.

Why not grow them as fencing for your garden?

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