CACTACEAE (Cactus Family)
The generic name identifies this genus as the portion of the former genus Opuntia which is characterized by cylindrical stems. Opuntia refers to Opus, an ancient Greek city that was fabled to have "a spiny plant growing at the outskirts." The specific epithet refers to the San Felipe Desert, where this species is found.
This cactus grows approximately 0.5-1.5 m (1-1/2 to 4-1/2 feet) high. The stems are short to densely branched with erect to semi-ascending branches. The stems are 9-15.5 cm (3-1/2 to 6 inches) long and are green to gray-green with stout spines 18 to 27 per areole, and 2.6 to 4.4 cm (1 to 2 inches) long. The flower petals are yellow to bronze in color and age to red-magenta, with the flowers appearing from March to May. The fruits are gray-green to tan, barrel shaped with dense spines, and dry at maturity.
Range and Habitat
This cholla inhabits sandy or rocky desert flats from 200 to 1000 m (600 to 3300 feet) in elevation. This cactus is endemic to the state of Baja California, and is found only in the San Felipe Desert area along the eastern base of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir.
The very spiny dry fruits of this species are easily detached, and become firmly attached to passing animals, allowing its seeds to be readily dispersed over large distances.
The cactus is gynodioecious with individuals bearing flowers that are bisexual or pistillate. In general, the cactus looks similar to the staghorn Cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa) of southern California, Arizona, and northwest Sonora.
Text by Bob Lauri
Photographs by Jon Rebman
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