Late afternoon sun struck the agave, highlighting golden nectar pods against darkening skies to the east. She grabbed her camera, heading out the back door. Perfect contrast for photography didn’t happen every day. Catch an elk or a deer feasting on the sweet pods and she’d have an award-winning shot. Then she spied the beautiful blooms on the cholla, with magenta flowers fairly glowing in the sun. The jumping cholla called out, “take our picture pretty lady–win a prize.” She knew better than to approach too closely. Still, the voiceless invitation drew her to the cactus. Stopping three feet from the nearest arm of the cholla, she fumbled with the lens cap, dropping it. That’s when the attack came. Her arm and hand were less than two feet from the cactus–within the danger zone. She felt the sting. The burn came next, like acid injected from a large gauge needle.
She’d been a victim before, of her own carelessness, but this seemed different. More severe, with a malevolence not expected from an unthinking plant. Jumping cholla don’t really jump; pods just break free easily when touched. Their hollow spined needles can curl into skin or hide after penetration, all the better to be carried away to propagate the cactus elsewhere. She could swear this one did jump. It did. A tiny meteorite struck the soil here decades ago. Dust, rain and the slow decay of native plants took the rock below ground, where it remained wedged between the limestone common to the area. The cholla’s roots had broken through the meteorite’s surface, tapping into minerals helping it grow. Tapping also into spores of a sentient species unknown on Earth and rare even in the asteroid belt. Taken up by the root, the invader awoke within the cholla. Now it had the means to move.