Also commonly called the diamond or branched pencil cholla, this hardy tree-like cactus is native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the Southwestern United States, California, and Northwestern Mexico, and to Baja California and its San Benito Islands. Uncommon in its range compared to other cholla species, the pencil cholla is usually found in well-drained sandy, gravelly, and rocky soils on flats, bajadas, and moderate slopes into the lower mountains in the Lower Sonoran (Creosote-Bursage Flats) and Upper Sonoran (Mojave Desert Scrub) habitats. Easily identified by the smooth surface of the stems with a distinct diamond-shaped pattern, each scale-like flat tubercle sprouts a viciously long, 2-inch golden-tipped silvery-white spine on the youngest and newest growth. This one was found growing along the side of a dried-out arroyo in a nameless canyon in Southern California's Anza-Borrego Desert in San Diego County.
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