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Notes index

Notes on Cholla

cholla flower

CHOLLA - Opuntia sp. Chorea. Kamia: Este. Maya: chouguam. Washo: Nahboo (Small Pad Cactus). The name is Spanish, and is pronounced "choh-yah", with an accent on the first syllable.

Cylindropuntia sp. Grusonia sp. Corynopuntia sp.

These are all members of the subgenus Cylindropuntia. The subgenus Opuntia or Platyopuntia contains the Prickly Pears. Use extreme caution walking around these plants. If they get stuck in your skin, use a pliers, two rocks or sticks, or a comb to pull them out. Yank quickly. Make sure you do not flip it into another part of your body or somebody else. The thorns of some species are barbed. The Desert Sparrow nests in Cholla.

The fruit of some species is edible raw or boiled. To harvest it, twist it off the plant, or knock it off with a stick. Two long sticks, or the ribs of Organpipe or Saguaro, can be used as tongs, or metal tongs can be used. It can be gathered into baskets, and stirred with a stick or Chaparral branch, or other brush-like branch and then rubbed with a cloth to remove the glochids. Or wipe it with a wet cloth, or roll it in the sand and then soak it in water. Or, roll it in gravel or burn to remove the spines. Peel the skin with the fingernail or a knife, or slice it away. The fruit can be impaled on a cholla thorn while you work on it. Some fruit is good raw, with or without salt, some roasted on hot coals for a half hour, which can be done before it is peeled, and some boiled and mashed, possibly with honey added. Some fruit can be dried and stored.


The joints of Opuntia are eaten during famine. They can be pit baked. Both buds and joints can be baked together. Use mesquite wood for the fire. They are placed on the firewood and the spines burned off, and then the stems are put in a pit and covered with dirt for about a half hour to finish cooking. Then they are cleaned and eaten. The joints can be stored roasted.

The buds of some species are also edible. The thorns can be loosened by boiling or steaming in a pit, or soaking in warm water. Drain and wash well with a vegetable brush. Return the fruit to the pot and cook until tender, sometimes with Atriplex wrightii. Or grind the buds and make porridge, mixed with dry white corn and saguaro seeds: 1/4 c. corn, 1/2 c cholla buds, 1/2 c saguaro seeds, ground on a metate and mixed. Add 1/2 cup wheat flour, sprinkle the mixture into a quart of boiling water, and cook until it is porridge. Add salt to taste. They can also be fried or mixed with meat, or dried and later roasted on coals or boiled. The flowers of some species are also edible.


Put pieces of stem in muddy water to clarify it. Stems can be put on graves to keep animals out. In unusually dry seasons, cattle will use these as browse plants if the spines are burned off, and sometimes will eat them as they occur. The skeletons are called ventilated wood. The dry wood from the stems is used to make small articles such as picture frames, lamp stands, and canes.

O. acanthocarpa (O. thornberi, Cylindropuntia a.): Buckhorn Cholla, Thornber Cholla. Akimel: Hannam. Takic: Mutal. The flower buds are edible cooked. To clean cholla buds, fill a saucepan 1/3 full of clean gravel, add the buds, and pour the gravel and buds from one saucepan to the other to get rid of spines and glochids. Then wash the buds under running water. They can be dried and later roasted on coals or boiled. Boil them in water for 15 minutes until tender, and drain. Use them in stew, salad, or casseroles. After boiling, they can also be fried in grease, or mixed with meat. They can be steamed in a pit and then the spines removed. Pit-bake them in a similar way to O. imbricata. They can be cooked with meat or the greens of Wright Saltbush, called Onk ivakhi by the Akimel O'odham. They can be ground on a metate and mixed with wheat flour and boiled. The food is then called Atole. Store the buds by setting on trays in the sun. To eat dried buds, soak them in water for three hours and boil for a half hour. The cooked fruit is so nutritious that it is a good food for convalescent people, and those with stomach trouble. It is rich in iron and calcium. Stone grinding them increases the iron content 5 times. The fruit can also be dried. Ashes of the stems are applied to cuts and burns to facilitate healing.


O. bigelovii (Cy. b., acanthocarpa, bigelowii, O. a., thornberi, x fosbergii a hybrid of Cy. bigelowii and Cy. echinocarpa, O x munzii a hybrid between O. bigelovii and O. acanthocarpa, Cy. x munzii): Arizona Jumping Cholla, Ball Cholla, Buckthorn Cholla, Ciribe, Cholla del Oso, Cholla Guera, Jumping Cholla, Silver Cholla, Teddy Bear Cactus, Teddy Bear Cholla, Teddybear Cholla. Serrano: Wehahts. Takic: Chokahl, Chokal, Chukal. Seri: Coote, Sea. The younger stems less than a year old are edible. The buds are edible between April and June. For a description of how to prepare them, see O. tuna under Prickly Pear. The core of the root is boiled and drunk as a diuretic. The moisture collects in the terminal depressions of the fruit at night. It is the only source of water for birds most of the year.

O. burrageana (Cy. b.). Seri: Heem icos cmasl "yellow spined pencil cholla". The fruit is edible.

O. cholla (Cy. cholla): Chain Link Cholla, Cholla Pelona, Jumping Cactus. The fruit forms chains. If it falls to the ground, it will grow a new plant. Cattle eat it.

O. echinocarpa (Cy. e., O. deserta): Golden Cholla, Silver Cholla, Spiny Fruited Cholla. Kawaiisu: Wiyaribi. Paiute: Mannavve. Serrano: Wehahm. Takic: Weeul, Weal. Tubatulabal: Oosil. The fruit is edible. See O. acanthocarpa, above.

O. fosbergii is a naturally occurring hybrid of Cy. bigelowii and Cy. echinocarpa.


O. fragilis (O. frutescans, leptocaulis, vaginata, Cy. l.): Brittle Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Christmas Cholla, Darning Needle Cactus, Desert Christmas Cactus, Desert Christmas Cholla, Diamond Cactus, Garambuello, Holycross Cholla, Pencil Joint Cholla, Rat Tail Cactus, Slender Stem Cactus, Tasajillo, Tesajo. Akimel: Nafyi. Seri: Iipxo. This species grows to within four degrees of the Arctic Circle. The red fruit is edible raw any time of the year, and remains on the plant through the winter.

O. fulgida (Cy. f., O. mamillata, mammillata): Chain Fruit Cholla, Chainfruit Cholla, Jumping Cholla, Smooth Chain Fruit Cholla, Teddy Bear Cholla. Seri: Coteexet "cholla exet", Sea icos cooxp "white spined teddybear cholla", Sea cotopl "clinging teddybear cholla". The fruit is edible year round. The larger ones are better. Eat it dried and boiled. The gum is also edible. The inside part is edible raw, or the entire thing if boiled first. It can be toasted, ground, mixed with water, and drunk, or eaten with honey, sugar, or Agave (A. subsimplex) juice. The gum, ground and mixed with water, is good for shortness of breath and diarrhea, and the fleshy part of the fruit can be cooked with a bit of the inside pulp and seeds for the same purpose. The stems with spines and skin removed, and boiled, yield a liquid drunk for heart pain or disease. The pith of the stems combined with other herbs makes a tea which was used in the mouth as a toothache remedy. The root inner bark and leaves of Prickly Poppy are made into tea as a diuretic and for urinary problems. Animals also eat the fruit, and the joints, to obtain the water. It often attaches itself to their bodies, especially their heads, and can pin their eyes shut.


O. imbricata (O. arborescens, hualpaensis, spinosior, versicolor, vexans, whipplei, Cy. s., w., imbricatus, versicolor, Cactus imbricatus): Abrojo, Candelabra Cactus, Candelabrum Cactus, Cane Cactus, Cane Cholla, Cardenche, Coyote Prickly Pear, Devil's Rope, Estrara, Pencil Cholla, Red Cactus, Spiny Cholla, Staghorn Cholla, Tall Prickly-Pear, Thorny Cactus, Tree Cactus, Tree Cholla, Tuna Huell, Tuna Juell, Velas de Coyote, Whipple Cholla. Akimel: Vipe noi. Dine: Hosh ditsahiitsoh "Big needle cactus", Xwoctitshahiih "awled cactus". This plant hybrids with O. fulgida. The Dine claim the fruit of this cactus is poisonous. However, the green fruit is edible, and used for seasoning. Gather it with wooden tongs. Pit bake like Maguey (Agave). Dig the pit, heat some stones on fire. Take away the stones and put in a layer of Saltbush such as Suaeda torreyana, over embers. Alternate with layers of fruit and hot stones. Cover all of it with earth. Let it bake overnight, then spread the fruit to dry, about a week. Stir it with a stick to remove spines, store. To eat, boil the fruit alone or with other plants such as Saltbush (Atriplex), or with piņole. The fibers of the fruits used to dissolve and set cochineal dye, which is a red dye derived from the Purpleworm, which lives on Prickly Pear. Antelope and cattle like the fruit. Antelope also eat the young branches and hummingbirds nest in it.


O. invicta (Co. i.): Casa Rata. This cactus looks like a Hedgehog Cactus.

O. kleiniae (O. arbuscula, caerulescens, californica, congesta, neoarbuscula, ramosissima, recondita, tessellata, tetracantha, vivipara, wrightii, Cy. a., k., r., r., v., caerulescens, tetracantha): Diamond Cholla, Holycross Cholla, Klein's Cholla, Pencil Cactus, Pencil Cholla, Rattail Cholla, Siviri, Tesajo. Paiute: Towahwe arrem. Seri: Heem, Heemaa "true pencil cholla", Heem icos cmasl "yellow spined pencil cholla". Takic: Wival. These plants are found in desert lowlands between 1500 and 2600 feet elevations. The young joints are edible boiled. The fruits of this cactus are light brown in color when ripe and taste a bit like sour apples. They are not real tasty raw, but very good roasted. They can be dried and boiled. Remove the spines from the fruit before preparing. The buds are also edible. They can be boiled or fried. It is said that the taste is similar to asparagus and artichokes. They are high in Vitamin A, calcium, and other minerals. The stems are boiled into a soup or dried for future use. The Comcaac used the fleshy outside portion of the fruit and a bit of the inside pulp with seeds, for the tart flavor. It was useful to children with persistent diarrhea. It is used as medicine for venereal disease. Tea made from the pith is combined with other herbs and used in the mouth for toothache.


O. marenae (Marenopuntia m.), O. reflexispina (Cy. reflexispina, bulbispina, grahamii): Seri: Xomcahoij. The thick roots cooked in ashes are eaten for diarrhea.

O. molesta (Cy. m., O. calmalliana, clavellina): Clavelina, Devil's Cholla. The spines of this cactus are up to two inches long. Be very careful when walking in the vicinity of this plant, because there are often pieces of it lying around on the ground, which will readily penetrate the shoe or skin. The cactus was well named; it will definitely molest you!

O. versicolor (O. arborescens, Cy. v.): Candelabra, Candelabrum Cactus, Cane Cactus, Cane Cholla, Deerhorn Cactus, Deerhorn Cholla, Entraņa, Indian Fig, Staghorn Cholla, Tree Cactus, Tree Cholla. Akimel: Vipe noi. Dine: Xwoctitshahiitshoh "big awled cactus". Seri: Hepem iheem "white tailed deer's pencil cholla", Heem icos cmaxlilca "stiff spined pencil cholla". The succulent whiskers, which grow in March through April, will eventually become thorns. They are moist and tasty, a bit lemony. It blooms in late May and June. The flowers are edible, and the petals have a delicate flavor eaten raw. Gather the perpetually green fruit in the spring. It can be dried or boiled with Inkweed. The roots are fleshy and mucilaginous, and may be valuable. Mule deer also eat the fruit.

See also Prickly Pear.


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