Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Chain fruit cholla

with 39 comments

Chain Fruit Cholla by Superstition Mountains 1770

On September 29th at the Lost Dutchman State Park east of Phoenix I photographed this Opuntia fulgida, known as chain fruit cholla and jumping cactus. That last name corresponds to the way the joints of this cactus break off so easily that they almost seem to jump onto anything that brushes against them; I’m here to tell you that on more than one occasion some small joints “jumped” onto my shoes and pants. Seen in profile behind the cactus is the Flat Iron Peak of the Superstition Mountains.


This is another entry from the saw (as in the past tense of see) part of the see-saw that’s been oscillating between pictures from my trip to the American Southwest in late September and more-recent pictures showing what’s going on in Austin.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 17, 2014 at 5:31 AM

39 Responses

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  1. so much life in this shot


    November 17, 2014 at 5:39 AM

  2. This is very nice, Steve. Good backlighting and lining up with the mountains looks pretty good as well.

    Steve Gingold

    November 17, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    • I was happy with the way the backlighting delineated the cactus spines. Lining up the cholla with the outline of the mountains seemed a natural thing to do, even though their shapes corresponded only partly. I also wished there hadn’t been a little piece of another cholla poking in from the right, but that’s how things were and I had to live with it. You know what that’s like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 17, 2014 at 6:12 AM

      • Sure do. Sometimes I will try to hold back an intruding branch. Doesn’t seem advisable with this subject.

        Steve Gingold

        November 17, 2014 at 6:15 AM

        • Branches are one thing (and I’ve occasionally held some back), but cactus is quite another, as you said.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 17, 2014 at 7:08 AM

          • There’s the “ouch” factor and then you did mention that they separate easily. We both operate under the “do no harm” philosophy of photography….to ourselves or our subjects.

            Steve Gingold

            November 17, 2014 at 7:15 AM

            • I’m all for the oooh factor and not at all for the ouch factor, even if it sometimes factors me in.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 17, 2014 at 7:20 AM

  3. Oooo … I like that. Lighting serves to highlight the spines and the background frames the plant in a very pleasing way. Why am I telling you things you already know? [Darn … should have read SG’s comment first … seems like he got to the analysis before I did.] D

    Pairodox Farm

    November 17, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    • I am willing to bet Steve won’t mind the repetition.

      Steve Gingold

      November 17, 2014 at 6:12 AM

      • You’re correct: I don’t mind at all. And speaking of repetition, I’ll show this mountain profile again tomorrow, but in another way, and a different profile will appear on Wednesday. You might say I’m suddenly pro profiles.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 17, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    • I’ll always welcome another oooo, D, and another analysis, especially if it’s favorable. I was writing my reply to Steve G. when you left your comment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 17, 2014 at 6:19 AM

  4. Your backlighting is to the point!!! Great shot


    November 17, 2014 at 6:56 AM

  5. Nicely backlit…


    November 17, 2014 at 7:07 AM

  6. Stunning shot. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    November 17, 2014 at 1:50 PM

  7. I do like how it’s mirrored in shape by the background 🙂

    Sarah Longes - Mirador Design

    November 17, 2014 at 2:40 PM

  8. Most impressive and beautiful in many ways: foreground, background, lighting, composition and the “how to” knowledge of the photographer, all that summed up equals WOW!


    November 17, 2014 at 5:51 PM

  9. One cactus said, “I live for the day. I do not require much water, a soft touch or love from you. I do like to be admired and appreciate a pleasant hello.” The fruit of my life must be handled with care. The fruit I carry will give you life when you are in dire need of living. I can help you when you suffer in the desert. All I ask is to remember me when you are looking to survive in this dry land called the desert. Until then, appreciate life before you get into trouble. Remember, I am here.


    November 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    • I don’t recall ever getting a comment like this one, so thanks for your unique take on this subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 17, 2014 at 8:45 PM

      • I enjoy seeing things in the “third” realm. Poetry is not easily understood and, yet, my heart pours out a narrative of what “I see.” Thank you for the compliment. 🙂


        November 20, 2014 at 9:47 AM

  10. I’ve nothing new, just adding to the chorus on the excellent backlighting.


    November 17, 2014 at 10:14 PM

  11. I’ll add a “wow” to the chorus, Steve. I think this is one of your best.


    November 17, 2014 at 11:23 PM

  12. What a fabulous photo. For another round of Nature’s Analogies, how about comparing it to this caterpillar? What a pair they make.

    This Cholla also brought to mind the Hill Country version, Opuntia imbricata . There’s a place on the old Spicer Ranch south of Kerrville that has it growing all along their fence line.

    I thought I remembered you posting about the internal structure of the plant, but I can’t find it now. Around Kerrville, it’s often called walking cane. The linked article says, “When the fleshy tissue is removed from the stems, a hollow cylinder remains with an interesting geometric framework of rhombic holes. These skeletal stems are fashioned into bizarre walking canes and other objects.” I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “rhombic” used in relation to a plant, but it’s a fair description.


    November 18, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    • Now if I could photograph a caterpillar like that on a cactus like this cholla I’d really have a picture.

      Apparently a variety of Opuntia imbricata has been attested in Burnet County, but I don’t recall ever seeing any, there or elsewhere. It’s something to keep my eyes open for.

      I’ve posted about the internal structure of the most common cactus in central Texas, the prickly pear:


      I’ve heard of walking cane but haven’t ever seen one. That’s in contrast to rhombi, some of whose properties I’m familiar with (for example, the diagonals of a rhombus are perpendicular bisectors of each other).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 18, 2014 at 7:39 PM

  13. There is a Jeff Corwin episode where a Cholla *jumps* onto his ankle. Brutal! Don’t ever lose your balance or footing when hiking through the desert.


    November 22, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    • I’ve thought about the consequences of falling into or onto a cactus (not good!), and although I take occasional risks, so far I’ve suffered only small and localized damage from accidental contacts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 22, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      • I’ll refrain from *liking* that comment. There are a few advantages to being in the Gulf Coast. Not having cholla is one of them.


        November 22, 2014 at 12:50 PM

  14. Ouch! They do jump at you and they are no fun to pull off.


    December 9, 2014 at 5:13 PM

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