Thursday, 27 June 2013

Taxon of the Day: Cylindropuntia bigelovii

Cylindropuntia bigelovii 

Today's Taxon of the Day celebrates the arrival of a new global species checklist for Cactaceae to the Catalogue of Life Dynamic Checklist. With over 15,000 species the Angiosperm Phylogeny Website ranks it as the 41st largest plant family in the world.

Teddy Bear Cholla or Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Engelm.) F.M. Knuth is a cuddly looking plant hence the common name, but anyone with an affectionate urge is best advised to reconsider. Native to California, Arizona, Nevada and northwestern Mexico, this plant's soft, fuzzy and cuddly appearance at a distance is due to its dense covering of yellowy-silverish spines. Plants grow up to 1.5m tall and have cylindrical branches coming off of an erect trunk-like stem. The spines are very sharp, barbed and grow up to 2.5cm long. Branches at the top of a trunk are nearly horizontal and lower branches mostly fall off leaving the trunk to darken with age. Yellow-green flowers appear in spring (May to June) but they produce few viable seeds, instead most reproduction occurs from dropped stems rooting and growing.

This group of cactus were previously treated as a subgenus of Opuntia but were separated into Cylindropuntia due to both their cylindrical stems (Opuntia have flattened ones) and the presence of papery sheaths on their spines.

This picture was taken in the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park where a dense mass of plants (or 'forrest') are packed together forming quite an incredible sight.

Taxon of the Day provides links to instructions on the two things everyone should know about a Cholla cactus:

1. How to remove a spine from your skin,  and 
CoL contributor: ITIS Global
Image copyright: R L F Matthias

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