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What is Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)

What is Buckhorn Cholla

Buckhorn Cholla Overview

The buckhorn cholla or a Staghorn Cholla is a cholla native to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Colorado Deserts of North America.

Along with Cylindropuntia bigelovii (the “teddy bear” cholla), it is the most common cholla found in these deserts.

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  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Genus: Cylindropuntia
  • Species: C. acanthocarpa

Subspecies include:

  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. acanthocarpa
  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis — Colorado buckhorn cholla.
  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. ganderi 
  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. major 
  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. ramosa 
  • Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. thornberi — Thornber’s buckhorn cholla

Size and Body Description

The gray-green stems also called “joints”, are cylindrical, 5-30 cm long and 17-20 mm in diameter with tubercles or nodules. Each tubercle has a cluster of stiff spines, which are covered with loose papery sheaths.  


The Buckhorn Cholla can reach heights of five to six feet tall. 


The flowers are up to 5 cm long and range from yellow to purple-red with shades in between.

The fruits are obovoid, dry, shriveled, and spiny and drop off later in the season. 


The seeds are light yellowish to gray-brown, 3.5 to 4 mm. long


This cactus is found on desert mesas and slopes in such plant communities as the creosote bush scrub and Joshua Tree woodland.

References Used

What is Creosote Bush Scrub

Below is a transcription of the above sign found at the Valley of Fire Visitor Center.

Flower bud and fruit are edible.

When the buckhorn dies, its woody stem is collected to make into walking sticks because of its interesting openwork pattern.

Buckhorn Cholla, Deerhorn or Cane Cholla

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Opuntia acanthocarpa

This distinctive cactus collects all the water it can from the surface of sandy, gravelly soils during rain or snowfall.

The fleshly segments of its branches store water for use in droughts.

The Buckhorn, named for its likeness to deer antlers, grows to a height of four feet (1.3 m.).

It blooms in the spring.

People often call this the “jumping cactus” because pieces so easily break off and catch on clothes or fur that it seems as though the cactus jumps out at whatever is passing by.

What is Buckhorn Cholla