jumping cactus

Jumping Cactus, How Does It Work?

The world of succulents and cacti never ceases to amaze us. Among all the exotic plants that you can find in this category, one name certainly captures the attention: the jumping cholla cactus, or simply the jumping cactus.

This interesting cactus belongs to the cholla genus. This genus has about 35 species of cylindroid-jointed cacti. All of the members of this family are native to North and South America and the West Indies.

Chollas have different sizes (from a few inches to 10 feet). With small flowers, you can identify them by their glochidia, small bristles with backward-facing barbs in the areoles that jump and aren’t easy to remove from the skin.

But do jumping cactus really jump? How does a jumping cactus work anyway? Can we buy it and grow it as a houseplant? Below, we will answer all of these questions and more.

Jumping cactus

Getting to Know Jumping Cactus

Jumping cactus is actually a common name for Cylindropuntia fulgida (chain fruit cholla) and the Cylindropuntia bigelovii (teddy bear cholla), both belonging to the cholla genus. We’ll explain more about these varieties later. This plant is also known as:

  • Jumping cholla
  • Hanging chain cholla
  • Cholla brincadora
  • Velas de coyote

The jumping cholla cactus is from Sonora and the Southwestern United States. However, you can’t find it in the Sierra Madre Occidental cordillera and Tiburon and Isla Ángel de la Guarda (east and northern California).

What Does a Jumping Cactus Look Like?

This tree-like has a low-branching trunk and can grow up to 13 feet. The jumping cactus stem is light green with small projections. The spines are the leaves, and there are 6 to 12 of them on an areole. The spines are about an inch and have a silvery-yellow color that turns into gray as the plant ages.

When the spines fall off of older parts, you can see a brown-black bark that becomes rough and scaly over time, known as the plant’s wood.

Jumping Cholla Cactus Uses

In their natural habitat, desert livestock eats jumping cactus. Its wood, resembling a hollow cylinder with holes, is used as fuel and other novelties. Cholla jumping cactus fruits are edible. You can the whole fruit by boiling it, or only eat the inside when it’s raw.

The buds are also edible. They are highly nutritious, low in calories, and benefit from high amounts of calcium and iron. You can harvest them in late April or early May. However, it’s not easy to get something edible from this tricky plant.

And in the mid-summer, you can simply enjoy white-pink flowers that bloom at the joint tips and grow up to one inch.

jumping cholla cactus

How Does Jumping Cactus Work?

Some people ask: “are jumping cactus alive?” Of course; “do jumping cactus really jump?” Kind of; “Why do jumping cactus jump?” To protect themselves and also multiply.

Remember the glochidia? When the spine has ripened, these spiny segments easily break off when animals get close to it or during heavy storms. And regarding people, the slightest touch will cause small bits to hang on them.

This unique adaptation helps the cactus multiply in different locations. After detaching from the main plant, it will begin rooting when it hits the ground. If you look at the ground around a mature plant, you’ll find many fallen dead stems and young plants starting from them.

Now that you know how does jumping cactus work and why do jumping cactus jump, it may come in handy knowing what to do if this cactus jumped on you.

The different thing about getting pricked by this plant is that you’re not simply dealing with a spine, but an entire circular pod. This makes the jumping cactus removal challenging and a little painful.

It is best to use tweezers to pluck the glochidia out; a big tooth comb can work too. Whatever you do, don’t pull it out. Because the pods have needles with microscopic thorns that act like a barbwire in the skin.

Other Jumping Cactus Facts

The ability of humping is not the only interesting thing about this plant.

  • This cactus is one of the largest cacti in the desert (growing up to 15 feet) and can live for decades.
  • A mature plant can attach to anything that comes close easily. The spines are not toxic but cause painful irritations.
  • In a succulent collection, they are excellent complements to yucca, aloe, and agave.
  • Its varieties have eye-catching star-shaped flowers with warm colors including red, pink, orange, and yellow-green.
jumping cactus removal

Cholla Jumping Cactus Varieties

Chain fruit cholla and teddy bear cholla also have joints that jump around and hold on to what’s been close to them. They have their own characteristics as well.

Teddy Bear Jumping Cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

The teddy bear jumping cactus has jointed stems. They are 2 to 10 inches long and are usually hide in a dense 7 to 10 inch long array of spines. Its branches are actually called tubercles since they have raised areas and aren’t really cylindrical.

The flowers of this jumping cholla cactus have a greenish-yellow color and don’t grow larger than 1.5 inches wide. These small flowers later turn into deciduous, fleshy fruits.

Chain Fruit Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida)

You can identify the chain fruit cholla with its cylindrical jointed stems that are about 8 to 10 feet tall. They have a light green color and some knotty ridges.

Their flowers have a similar size to the teddy bear jumping cactus, but they have a beautiful magenta flower. This type gets its name from the growth pattern of its fruits. The fruits appear persistently and the aerosols produce even more fruits, creating a chain fruit.

how does jumping cactus work

Propagating Jumping Cholla Cactus

Paying attention to a few things, you can propagate this plant successfully using seeds or cuttings. Seeds are the best choice if you prefer to get a pure species, but they are slow to germinate and grow. On the other hand, plucking stem offshoots out and grow them in individual pots guarantees a quicker result.

It is important to consider the temperatures and the season before propagation. Temperatures above 60° F are ideal and let the cholla jumping cactus root successfully. Also, make sure you get the cuttings from a healthy plant.

For propagating using cuttings, wear thick gloves and follow these steps:

  1. Disinfect a sharp knife, and remove the stem offshoot in a slanted manner. This method prevents the parent plant from collecting water at the cut area. You can also simply snap the stem offshoot off from the joint with your hands.
  2. Optional: Dip the cutting base in a common rooting compound such as sulfur to improve the chances of rooting.
  3. Wait a few days until the base of the cutting is callused. This important step protects your young jumping cactus from common soil-borne diseases.
  4. When the cutting is callused, fill the chosen container (that has drainage holes) with rich and well-draining soil mix. Commercial versions will do just fine. You can prepare the mix yourself by mixing an equal amount of peat or compost and pumice or perlite as well.
  5. At least 3 inches of the cutting should be covered by the soil. Spray some water if the soil is too dry, and place it in a bright location by the window or balcony.

After a few weeks, you should be able to see signs of rooting (like a growing tip).

jumping cactus stem

Jumping Cactus Care

To grow this low-maintennce plant, you need to know its needs; which are:

Watering

This plant can handle drought periods very well but still has its own water requirements. You should water this cactus in moderation. Watering should be regular for the first few months as the jumping cholla cactus gets used to the new environment. After settling in, water it less often.

Always ensure that the top inch of the soil is dry before irrigation, and adjust the frequency depending on the weather. For example, if you are in a hot region, watering should be more frequent compared to colder weather.

Remember that under-watering is better than over-watering, as the first doesn’t cause root rots.

Light

During the first stages of jumping cholla cactus life, enough light is crucial. So make sure to place it where it can get maximum sunlight, such as a south or southeast-facing window.

If such a location is not available, use grow lights for at least 10 to 14 hours a day. You can find these lights in any electronics store. This plant also needs some dark periods for developing.

Feeding

The jumping cactus can grow well in a suitable soil mix or even barren lands. But when grown at home, it sure can use some fertilizer. Feeding provides a consistent flow of nutrients for your plant without compromising its survival.

Feed your cactus with fertilizer that is specifically made for cacti and other succulents on a regular basis (like during the watering routine). Water-soluble, low nitrogen fertilizers (5-10-10 or 10-10-10 but) are also applicable.

Too much fertilizer weakens your jumping cholla cactus. So don’t forget to dilute the NPK fertilizers to ¼ of their strength.

Pests and Diseases

This low-maintenance plant is resistant to various pests and diseases, but some can cause problems:

Cochineal Scale Insects

These insects suck the plant’s sap and create white and brown patches. In addition to the patches, you can easily notice them because of their sticky white appearance.

If growing outdoors, remove the insects using a garden hose. And if growing indoors, treat your jumping cactus with a mixture of water and alcohol. Apply it on the affected areas.  They will be gone after a few days.

Cactus Longhorn Beetle

These one-inch beetles have a shiny black color and white patches on their antennae. They burrow into the plant’s stem and lay their eggs, leading to black rusty deposits on the stem. In stronger attacks to the root, the plant may even droop over and die.

To prevent these scenarios, you can simply handpick these beetles from the stem. If there are too many of them, chemical control is recommended.

Root Rot and Stem Rot

As we mentioned, overwatering is the main cause of these diseases.

Transplanting

The jumping cactus grows quickly with the right care, and soon you’ll have to repot it. This way the root system won’t crowd, and the plant can get some fresh and fertile soil.

When repotting, use the right type of container. If you’re living in a hot area, use a plastic container so the soil moisture maintains for a longer time. If you have a tall variety, clay pots are the best choice. They absorb excess water and prevent root rot in case of over-watering.

For outdoor plants, you don’t need transplanting. But if you need to completely move it to another place, read the next part on how to remove jumping cactus.

jumping cactus facts

Jumping Cactus Removal

For jumping cactus removal, you’ll need protective gloves, a tarp, some newspaper, a pail, and a shower. After preparing the equipment, follow these steps:

  1. Cover the plant with a tarp, and tuck it against its base to enclose its branches. If you’re dealing with a big plant, wear protective gloves, fold layers of newspaper around the stems, and break them off until you’re left with a more compact plant. Store the branches that you removed in a solid container.
  2. Dig the soil around the jumping cholla cactus’s base away. Insert the shovel around the base. When it reaches under the plant and the cactus moves, pry the whole plant up.
  3. When it’s loose, place the pail over the tarped cactus. Lift with the shovel under the root base and flip the plant out, turning the pail upright again. Now you can safely carry it to another location, or give it to someone else.

Final Thoughts

Jumping cholla cactus is an excellent and easy-to-grow plant for both indoors and outdoors. But if you have children or pets, outdoors is probably a better option due to its jumping tendency. When grown outdoors, you won’t need to prune the offshoots to prevent overgrowing as well.

Right warmth, regular watering, full sunlight, and pest-free conditions are all that the cholla jumping cactus needs. It will thank you later by producing bright flowers, creating a lovely landscape.

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