Although it is one of the most common chollas in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Gander's Cholla (Cylindropuntia ganderi) was not recognized as a good species in the last edition of the Jepson Manual (Hickman 1996). However, it was mentioned in this floristic treatment and implied that this taxon may be a hybrid between Opuntia parryi, now Cylindropuntia californica var. parkeri (Cane/Valley Cholla), and C. echinocarpa (Silver Cholla). Subsequently, systematic research (Rebman 1995) on the cholla cacti of Baja California has helped to elucidate the relationships of this taxonomically difficult cactus group and has provided evidence that Gander's Cholla should be recognized as a separate and common species.
Gander's Cholla is a beautiful cactus species with multiple erect branches and a strict to almost linear ascending growth habit, spines cream to yellow, and showy yellow flowers with green-yellow filaments clustered around the stem tip.
Range and Habitat
In our region, this species can be found growing along the eastern edge of the Peninsular ranges and on the lower desert floor from Riverside County, through San Diego and Imperial counties into northern Baja California. In Baja California, it has scattered populations on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir and in the low desert areas near Laguna Diablo. In Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, this cholla is quite common almost the entire length Highway S-2 north of Ocotillo and south of Scissor's Crossing, but can also be found in other areas of the park. Gander's Cholla flowers March to June and prefers desert, chaparral, and pinyon/juniper communities on sandy flats, rocky granitic hillsides, and boulder fields from 100-1000 m in elevation.
This species is quite similar to the C. californica (Cane/Valley Cholla) complex because both have dry, spiny fruits and yellow flowers, but differs by exhibiting a strictly ascending growth habit and heavily spined, bur-like fruits. Gander's Cholla was originally classified as a subspecies of C. acanthocarpa (Buckhorn Cholla). However, since C. ganderi lacks the red filaments and variable perianth color, which are characteristic of C. acanthocarpa, they probably share no close evolutionary relationship. Wolf's Cholla (C. wolfii) is another cholla related to C. acanthocarpa in our region that can sometimes be confused with Gander's Cholla. However, it too, has red filaments and a variable flower color, plus a more robust and open growth habit than Gander's Cholla. The flowers of Gander's Cholla and the Silver Cholla (C. echinocarpa) look quite similar because both have yellow flowers with greenish yellow filaments, but their growth habits are very different. The Silver Cholla has a dense, compact growth form with branches that spread in all directions, whereas Gander's Cholla has very erect, ascending growth habit.
It is also suspected that some populations in the U.S.A. and northern Baja California, especially those in San Felipe Valley north of Scissor's Crossing have been introgressed with C. californica var. parkeri because of the presence of a stouter central spine and smaller flowers and fruits. Individuals in these intermediate populations also usually exhibit a less strict, ascending habit. Another population observed near Ocotillo suggests hybridization events with neighboring C. wolfii, since plants vary in growth habit and stem diameter, plus have filaments that range from red to green.
Gander's Cholla may also be a putative parent of the Pink Teddy-Bear/Mason Valley Cholla (C. ×fosbergii) which is endemic to San Diego County and can be found along Highway S-2 from the vicinity of Canebrake to Mason Valley. This hybrid taxon is most likely a result of a cross between C. ganderi and the Teddy-Bear/Jumping Cholla (C. bigelovii), although molecular research in still needed to confirm this hybridization event.
Hickman, J. C. ed. 1996. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley.
Rebman, J. P. 1995. Biosystematic study of Opuntia, subgenus Cylindropuntia (Cactaceae), the chollas of Lower California, Mexico. Ph. D. dissertation. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.