by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO- If ever there was a plant that was designed by the demons of hell, it’s the cholla cactus. It should be called chella. You see them all over Huerfano County. They look like their branches were stuck on by a two-year-old, and if you look at them up close, they’re a tangle of bug infested, scar-covered creepiness. If you decide to get close to one, watch your back (yes, I realize how hard it is to do that). The cholla is covered with little grappling hooks. You don’t have to get closer than about five feet to be attacked by a cholla. The spines lay in wait on the ground until they sense human skin. And when they hit pay dirt, watch out.
These spine-hooks slowly work their way into your flesh, and you can’t pull them out. Well, I guess you can if you have some pliers handy and want to sacrifice a chunk of your arm or leg. They literally have to be cut out with a machete, well ok, maybe a pocket knife. It’s an ugly procedure, whatever you use.
In a few weeks the billions of cholla around here will bloom, and their purple blossoms are some of the most beautiful flowers in the bloomin’ kingdom. It’s a travesty that they sit on one of the ugliest and most heinous members of the plant world. Because of our limited rainfall, our Huerfano chollas usually grow to be about two feet tall. But I’ve seen some taller, and I’ve read that they can get to be eight feet tall! It sounds like the makings of a horror movie to me.
You can’t kill a cholla by chopping it up. You might feel all warm and fuzzy about wrecking it, but in a couple months, each chopped off limb starts a new plant. Yes, you should have saved your energy, because now you’ll have 20 times as many. You can dig them out, but then what do you do with them? You can’t touch them. You can probably use a crane to squash a couple into the garbage can, but if the garbage man ends up with a grappling hook in his arm, he might never come back to pick up any more of your garbage.
As for spraying, don’t bother. One article I read said, “Do not spray when wind velocity is high.” Ok, so that leaves us out. Another spray warning was, “Plants may not actually die for one or two years after spraying.” That is not helpful. Shoot, they could die of a heart attack in two years.
One tip about digging them out was to pile them up and let them dry. Again I ask – once they’re dry, what do you DO with them? Oh wait, I think I know. The wind will get ahold of them and blow them to Kansas. Or maybe they won’t get quite that far, and they’ll just end up under your car. And, no, you can’t just drag a cholla until it lets go, like you do a tumbleweed. It’s the grappling hooks. They’ll break off by the bazillions wherever you drag the nasty thing – for instance, all over your driveway and your lawn. This is particularly not handy when the city relatives come to visit. Frankly, it will be an up close rural experience they’ll never forget, especially when you whip out the machete.