Driving out of the high desert brings a different vegetation as the elevation changes. The Joshua Trees disappear and other cacti fill the landscape. In one location, at the bottom of the mountain, this chollo cactus garden appears.
Walking through this garden, you can easily get the impression from dark brown trunks of some cholla that many of them are dying. That’s not the case at all, according to park botanists. Rather, these sections draw their color from dead spines, while the rest of the plant is generating new growth. And that leads to another interesting aspect of the cholla.
The “garden” is located 20 miles north of the park’s Cottonwood Visitor Center along the Pinto Basin Road and is at the south end of Wilson Canyon. The small forest of chollas lies just south of the geographical break between the Mojave Desert to the north and the Colorado Desert to the south.
The Mojave is a higher, cooler desert more attractive to Joshua trees, Mojave yuccas, even pinyon pines, scrub oaks, and junipers. The Colorado Desert, a fragment of the much larger Sonoran Desert, is below 3,000 feet in elevation and is hotter than the Mojave. This setting is more favorable for cholla, ocotillo, and creosote bush.
A stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden rewards you with a level, quarter-mile nature trail that introduces you to a beautiful collection of “jumping” cacti, a nickname the cholla picked up for their propensity to insert their spines into your skin at the lightest touch. That’s definitely something you should mention to all in your party — particularly children — before you head down this path.
Another nick-name for this cactus is the “teddy bear” cholla, which one cholla variety picked up for the silvery bristles they seem to be covered with.
Walk the meandering pathway through this cactus garden and you’ll encounter not only the so-called Jumping Teddy Bear Cholla, but also the Silver Cholla, and the Pencil Cholla. Interspersed among these cacti are a number of other hot-desert-loving plants, such as hedgehog cactus, climbing milkweed, jojoba, and creosote bush.
But it’s the cholla that will draw most of your attention, both due to their beautiful arrays of spine-bristling branches as well as the sheer numbers of them in this section of Joshua Tree. According to the trail pamphlet you can pick up at start of your walk, the abundance of cacti in this location is the result of a reliable water supply at key times of year for the plants. (stolen from the web)
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