Friday, June 6, 2008

The deadly Cholla

There is a lovely Cholla outside my bedroom window that both brings me joy and also sorrow! This Cholla is good sized- taller than my admittedly not very tall house. If you are not familiar with the Cholla they come in different varieties and are comprised of thorn covered segmented joints that seem to drop from the main plant or sometimes even "jump" onto unsuspecting passersby. One variety is referred to as a "jumping cholla" for just that reason. They are quite common in the desert around Tucson and I suspect that the one in my yard, was part of the desert, long before my home was built. Because of that and because I love all plants, I enjoy having it, although I have stepped on the thorn covered joints and have had to rescue a couple furry friends from them too! Once one of these thorny pods gets attached to something, it is awful to get unattached! They are no fun to tangle with!

The thing that really bothers me though, is the life and death struggle between this Cholla and the birds that chose to build their nests within its dangerous branches. There are two permanent nests built in the branches and they are always occupied by birds that I believe are cactus wrens. For the most part these birds seem very capable of navigating the thorns and staying out of their reach. However not always- I've had at least three birds die what must have been horrible deaths- impaled on the thorns, with any struggle just causing them to be further attached.

This year I listened to a mama bring up her two young, every day through my window- even hearing the middle of the night feedings sometimes, and watching those little birds stretch their wings and hop up onto the outside of the nest, just waiting for their first flight. Then I go out one day to find that one of the two had flown the nest, and the other was dead- impaled on the thorns of the cholla that was both its home and its enemy! I understand the cruelty of nature- but right outside my bedroom window? I struggle with destroying the nests in the tree- but the birds would build them again I am sure.

I couldn't bring myself to capture the baby bird in a picture but I have posted a picture of bird that seemed to have actually crashed into the Cholla in flight! You can see one of the nests just under that bird, and the other nest area is on the other side and not visible in this shot.


happybunny said...

Oh my goodness I have never heard of this plant - as you say nature can be so beautiful and so cruel. I feel for you to come out and find birds impaled on it - ouch...

Barbee' said...

I would be greatly tempted to burn that thing at the stake. I know they are mostly water, but I am a very stubborn, determined person and would use gasoline and barbecue it. I know they are abundant in the desert (or at least I think they are), but I wouldn't have it in my yard. Your poor pets... and you, and the wrens. Nature can be so hateful!

I am so glad you posted the one about the leaf-cutting bees. My epimedium has those circles cut from the leaves, but I never dreamed it could be a bee. We have wondered what in the world did such neat work.

Your blog is so interesting, because your environment is so different from humid, wet Kentucky.