Cactus That Shoots Needles (Jumping Cholla)

The Jumping Cholla is commonly known across the globe as the cactus that shoots needles.

It is a rare type of cactus found mostly in the desert regions of North America and is a primary attraction in the Joshua Tree National Park.

It is one of the most admirable cacti out there because of its general outlook and unique aesthetic appeal, but beware those who venture too near – it bites, and it shoots!

One of the most prominent features of the Jumping Cholla is because of how it “shoots needles” (not literally) when you touch it.

No, the cactus doesn’t actually take aim and start firing at you, though. It has a weak stem that detaches itself when pulled slightly, while its needles have a way of sticking to skin and clothes quite easily.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Jumping Cholla (scientific name: Cylindropuntia prolifera), its natural state, habitat, and safety precautions, should you decide to go near it.

The Jumping Cholla – A Quick Overview

The Jumping Cholla has been popularized as one of the few cacti that can stick to you and be quite painful to remove.

Its needles aren’t really poisonous, nor do they break off as easily in your clothes or skin, but the needles are sharp enough to stick to your skin nonetheless.

In fact, you will most likely feel the needle for several hours, if not days, even after you remove it! Don’t worry, though; the needles are quite harmless in most cases.

There are many videos out there about the cactus where people manage to remove it from one leg, only to have it get attached to the other.

The plant is native to California and is a small cactus shrub that may “jump” short distances easily.

The parent plant gets a very distinct trunk as the plant grows with dead plant matter hanging from it.

It isn’t really a trunk, mind you – which is why despite its appearance, the plant is categorized as a shrub.

The Jumping Cholla is a very hardy plant and can survive even under harsh circumstances.

When the broken stem latches off the parent plant, it may get attached to you, your clothes, animals, or even your car’s upholstery.

The jumping stem can grow almost anywhere, so when people remove the cactus and leave it on the sand or dirt, these needles turn into roots.

This is why the Jumping Cholla has been categorized as a weed in the Weeds of National Significance (WONS).

Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera) Properties

The Jumping Chola cactus gets its name from its barbed needles, which can detach from the plant and stick to passersby.

You don’t necessarily have to touch the plant for it to latch itself on to you if you get too close (within a few inches).

All it takes is just one needle to stick to your clothes or skin, and the Cholla jumps right onto you – sometimes very painfully.

Similar Plants

This Jumping Cholla cactus is not to be confused with the closely related other cholla cacti, which are also native to the desert regions of North America.

While other plants of the family also have similar fishhook barbs and can stick to your skin and clothes, they don’t have that “jumping” property that the Jumping Cholla is known for.

The Jumping Cholla can be distinguished by its smaller size and sharper spines.

Plant Nature

The Jumping Cholla is not an aggressive plant, but its barbed needles can be a nuisance if they become detached and stick to clothing or skin.

Remember, you don’t just have to worry about the entire stem sticking to you – sometimes, the needles can remain hooked even if you remove the stem!

If you find yourself with a needlestick injury from this cactus, it is important to remove the needles carefully to avoid further injury.

A Closer Inspection of the Cactus That Shoots Needles

The Jumping Cholla is notorious for latching on to those who venture too close.

If you see one in the wild, it is important that you observe it from a safe distance. Here are some distinguishing properties of the plant to help you identify it.


The Jumping Cholla is a small, spiny cactus that typically reaches only a few feet in height as it is a low-growing plant.

Its stems are covered in sharp spines that can also turn into roots wherever the stem falls. The flowers are either white or green, depending on the species variety.

These flowers usually sprout in the monsoon season, but they do not serve any major reproductive function, though, other than showing signs of a thriving Jumping Cholla cactus.

Instead, the plant focuses on vegetative propagation, i.e., its fallen stems turn into parent plants over time.

On a microscopic level, it can be seen that the needles on the cactus are barbed, which allows them to detach from the plant and stick to passersby.

This is also why you should be very careful when pulling it out, even if there is no puncture.


The Jumping Cholla is native to the desert regions of North America.

It could originally be found in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah, but in 2016, there were reports of the plant being found in other areas as well, such as Zimbabwe.

The plant has also been exported because of its aesthetic appeal across the globe.


The Jumping Cholla is a photosynthetic plant that gets its nutrients from the sun. It also relies on desert animals for pollination, which allows it to grow more stems.

The primary mode of reproduction for the cactus is vegetative, allowing its stems to grow wherever they fall.

The plant itself is very hardy and can grow under harsh conditions as well, provided there is enough sun. The stem can survive without roots for up to 7-9 days if not watered.

When watered, the plant needs about 2-3 weeks to find roots in almost any type of soil – preferably desert soil.

Even with constrained roots, the plant can thrive and keep on creating more stems or start corking. This, in turn, allows the cactus to grow.

In the short term, this is not an issue, but in the medium and long term, the cactus can destroy native pastures and lead to dense infestations.

Within 4-5 years, a single fully grown plant (that is watered regularly) can overtake entire pastures and displace native vegetation.

Does The Jumping Cholla Cactus Actually Jump At You?

Despite what the name suggests, the cactus does not actually jump at you.

The barbed needles on the Jumping Cholla plant are usually stronger than the stem connection to the parent plant.

This means that when hooked, the entire stem can easily detach from the parent and become lodged in your skin or clothing if you brush up against it.

And let us tell you (from experience), that is a very painful and problematic experience, to say the least!

Even when removing, you should be careful that the stem does not jump towards another body part, or the remover, as it can stick quite easily.

How Can You Tell a Jumping Cholla Apart from a Regular Cholla?

The Jumping Cholla and the regular Cholla are two different types of cacti. The Jumping Cholla is smaller in size and has sharper spines than the regular Cholla.

These two plants are often mistaken for one another, but with a closer look, you will be able to tell them apart.

For the regular Cholla, you will need to apply some pressure to have it stick to your skin.

The Jumping Cholla, on the other hand, has a much weaker connection with the parent and can easily detach.

Avoiding Injury from The Jumping Cholla

The Jumping Cholla is not an aggressive plant on its own. As long as you stay away unless there is a strong wind blowing towards you, the plant will not say or do anything to you.

The problem is its barbed needles, which can be a nuisance if they become detached and stick to you.

If you find yourself with a needlestick injury from the Jumping Cholla, it is important to remove the needles carefully to avoid further injury.

The best way to avoid being pricked by this cactus is to admire it from a safe distance!

How To Remove Jumping Cholla From Skin

There are several ways to remove the Jumping Cholla needles from the skin, ranging from pulling them out with a stick to pinching them out.

However, there are two that have been researched and proven to be safe methods.

  • Method 1: The best way to remove the needles is to use a pair of tweezers. You should gently grab the needle or clumps of the spine with the tweezers and pull it straight out, followed by glue-covered gauze for residual needles. Once all of the needles have been removed, wash the area with soap and water. You can apply an antibacterial lotion or balm after washing it, as the skin may still continue to itch. Apply a bandage if necessary.
  • Method 2: The second method includes using adhesive tape, or a thin layer of a facemask can also help in the removal of the spines, but you may see a bit of inflammation or more irritation this way.

There is no doubt that the Jumping Cholla is a fascinating plant with a very hardy root system.

The plant adapts fairly well to the desert environment but has been known to thrive domestically as well.

If you find yourself looking at this cactus, make sure you maintain your distance. There’s a reason why it is called the cactus that shoots needles!

Final Words

In conclusion, the cholla cactus is an iconic desert plant that most people are familiar with.

It is easy to grow and flourish in the right environment and is frequently used to decorate the desert landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is the cholla cactus called jumping cactus?

Jumping cactus is so called because the spines along the stem and up its arms are very thin, and can snap off easily.