Gardening Blog

Holy jumpin’ cholla!

img_2669I’m sorry I’ve been offline for so long. My trip to Arizona was abruptly aborted when I had to rush to my mother’s hospital bedside in California. She’s now stable and I’m finally home in Toronto, and in the right frame of mind to bring you up to date on my travels.

In the next little while, I’ll post a few pages on the stunning topography and plants of Arizona. Although my trip was cut short, I did manage to visit an interesting arboretum east of Phoenix, take several walks in the desert and see the Chiricahua National Monument with its fantastic rock formations.

img_2671img_2672My friends Karen and Michael made me very welcome in their home in northern Scottsdale. Some of the barrel and prickly pear cactuses surrounding their property were just starting to bloom, although I was a week or two too early for the full-on spring bloom of the desert.

img_26731Their garden has a pretty pool and a spa (main photo, above), and right outside its walls is the open desert landscape, with its wonderful plants, including majestic old Saguaro cactuses (left), but also rattlesnakes, coyotes and javelinas, or collared peccaries. These nearsighted, smelly, sometimes aggressive omnivores look a bit like a wild boar, but aren’t really a member of the pig family. Although I didn’t come across one, it’s always a good idea to carry a long, stout walking stick just in case.

On one of our morning walks, Karen cautioned me not to get too close to the jumping chollas (pronounced CHOY-yuh). Legend has it this spiny group of cacti can sense your body heat and launch themselves at you, sinking into your skin with long, barbed, painful spines and tenaciously hanging on. Ouch. While this isn’t strictly true, they do propagate by attaching plantlets to anything–animal or human–that even lightly brushes against them.

img_2674The photograph I’ve posted here (left) is of the teddy bear cholla (Opuntia bigelovii). If you look closely, you can see a few plantlets around its base that are taking root.

The best defence against chollas is to give them a wide berth. If you do get one stuck on you, it’s recommended that you use a comb to catch and flick it away. As for me, I got some stuck in my walking shoe and had to use stout pliers to pull out the spines. Michael had a cholla attach itself to his calf while playing golf–at first he thought he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake.

You’ve been warned.

Next: Majestic landscapes, amazing plants

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