Cholla Cactus 101: A Look at 8 Different Species

The Cholla Cactus is a succulent that grows in the desert. It has many different species, which vary in their size and shape. This is a fun way to bring the desert into your home or office.

Native to parts of North America and West Indies, the cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia sp.) is a member of the Opuntiaceae family. Most cholla cacti are densely covered in sharp, barbed needles called glochids. These glochids detach easily from the plant and can become lodged in the skin, causing irritation. Chollas are sometimes referred to as “jumping cacti” because the glochids can detach and become embedded in unsuspecting passersby.

There are more than 20 species of cholla cactus, including barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus), buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa), chain-fruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida), and Christmas cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis). Others include pencil cholla (Cylindropuntia kleiniae), staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor), and teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii).

While all cholla cacti share some common characteristics, there are also some notable differences between the various species. This blog post will explore some of those differences and briefly overview each type of cholla cactus.

Cholla Cactus: An Overview

Before we dive into the different types of cholla cacti, let’s first take a look at some of the plant’s key characteristics. As we mentioned, chollas are members of the Opuntiaceae family and are native to North America and the West Indies.

Most species grow in arid or semi-arid environments, such as deserts and dry grasslands. They typically have a cylindrical shape and can range in height from a few inches to several feet. Many chollas are covered in sharp, barbed needles called glochids.

A cholla cactus in a pot.
Most species grow in arid or semi-arid environments, such as deserts and dry grasslands.

These glochids detach easily from the plant and can become lodged in the skin, causing irritation. This characteristic of Chollas have given them the name “jumping cacti”.

Different Types of Cholla Cactus

There are different types of Cholla cactus you’re likely to come across. They include:

1. Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

As its name suggests, the barrel cactus is shaped like a barrel. It is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

Barrel cacti can grow up to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They are typically green in color, but some barrel cacti can also be yellow, red, or orange.

Barrel cacti have spines that are up to 2 inches long. The flowers of the barrel cactus are usually red, orange, or yellow.

One of the most notable differences between the barrel cactus and other types of cholla cactus is that they don’t have glochids. Instead, it has long, sharp spines that can cause serious injury if they come in direct contact with human skin.

In its natural habitat, the barrel cactus typically grows in desert climates. It is a slow-growing cactus that can live for hundreds of years.

2. Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)

Buckhorn cholla is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It gets its name from its fruit, which is shaped like a buck’s horn.

Buckhorn cholla typically grows to be between 3 and 5 feet tall. It has green stems that are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of buckhorn cholla are usually yellow, orange, or red.

A Buckhorn Cholla flowering.
It gets its name from its fruit, which is shaped like a buck’s horn.

Like barrel cactus, buckhorn cholla does not have glochids. Instead, it has long, sharp spines that can cause serious injury if they come in direct contact with your skin.

The Buckhorn cholla does well as an outdoor decorative plant in desert climates. It is a slow-growing cactus that can live for up to 50 years.

3. Jumping Cholla

The jumping cholla is a tree-like cactus native to the deserts of Arizona, California, and Mexico. It gets its name from the fact that its barbed spines can easily detach from the plant and become embedded in the skin of passing animals or humans.

Jumping cholla typically grows to be between 6 and 10 feet tall. It has green stems that are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of the jumping cholla are usually white, pink, or purple.

Close up image of a Cholla cactus.
It is also used for erosion control in desert areas.

Like other types of cholla cactus, jumping cholla does not have glochids. Instead, it has long, sharp spines that can cause serious injury if they come in direct contact with your skin.

The jumping cholla is not typically used as an ornamental plant due to its dangerous spines. However, it is sometimes used for erosion control in desert areas.

4. Cane Cholla

Native to Oklahoma, Arizona, and parts of Texas, the cane cholla is also known as a “walking stick” cactus because of its long, thin stems. It can grow up to 20 feet tall in the wild but is often much smaller when grown in a pot.

Cane cholla has green stems that are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of cane cholla are usually white, pink, or purple.

The cane cholla is not typically used as an ornamental plant due to its dangerous spines. However, it is sometimes used for erosion control in desert areas.

Besides animal dispersal, this cactus also spreads by breaking off at joints when it is brushed against. The broken segment of the cactus then sticks to animal fur or human clothing and is carried to a new location where it can take root and grow.

Some people have the cane cholla in their home gardens as an ornamental plant. However, this cactus is not recommended for home gardens because of its potential to spread and become invasive.

5. Christmas Cholla Cactus

Aptly named, the Christmas cholla cactus usually produces beautiful red berries around the holiday season. It is a small cactus that grows only about 2 feet tall.

The Christmas cholla cactus has green stems that are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of the Christmas cholla cactus are usually white, pink, or purple.

This type of cholla cactus thrives in both deserts and grasslands, making it a familiar sight in many home gardens. The Christmas cholla rapidly grows to colonize an area, making it somewhat of a nuisance if not kept in check.

Despite its menacing appearance, the Christmas cholla is actually a relatively harmless plant. However, the sharp spines can cause skin irritation if they come into contact with bare flesh. Handling this plant cautiously and wearing gloves when working around it is important.

Pruning the Christmas cactus is relatively easy and can be done with a sharp pair of shears or a pruning knife. Simply cut away any stems that are getting too long or out of control.

If you have pets or small children, keeping them away from the Christmas cholla cactus is important, as the spines can cause pain if they come into contact with skin.

6. Claret Cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

The claret cup cactus is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It gets its name from the deep red color of its flowers, which bloom in early spring.

The claret cup cactus is a small plant that grows only about 2 feet tall. It has green stems that are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of the claret cup cactus are deep red and bloom in early spring.

Claret Cup flowering.
It gets its name from the deep red color of its flowers, which bloom in early spring.

It is one of the most popular cacti for gardens and landscaping because of its showy flowers and lack of water requirements. The claret cup cactus is easy to grow and care for and relatively resistant to pests and diseases.

Typically, it only requires watering about once a week and can even tolerate some drought conditions. It prefers full sun but can also grow in partial shade. It is important to plant the claret cup cactus in well-draining soil to avoid root rot.

The claret cup cactus is a beautiful plant that is easy to care for and makes a great addition to any garden or landscape.

7. Diamond Cholla

The diamond cholla is a type of cactus native to the deserts of Arizona and California. It is a member of the family Cactaceae, which includes all cacti. The diamond cholla gets its name from its diamond-shaped leaves.

Diamond Cholla can grow up to 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It has many small, sharp spines on its stems and leaves. The diamond cholla blooms in the spring and summer months. Its flowers are white or pink.

The fruit of this cactus is edible. So, if you’re wondering whether you can eat raw cactus, this is the answer. Diamond has a sweet taste and is often used in jams and jellies.

The diamond cholla is also a popular plant for landscaping. It is drought-tolerant and does not require much water to grow.

8. Staghorn Cholla

The staghorn cholla usually exhibits branching habits and is commonly seen in the deserts of Arizona and California. It gets its name from its antler-like branches, which are covered in sharp spines.

Cholla cactus bearing fruits.
It gets its name from its antler-like branches, which are covered in sharp spines.

The staghorn cholla typically grows to be about 2-3 feet tall. Its branches are green or blue-green and are covered in sharp spines. The flowers of this cactus are typically yellow or white.

The staghorn cholla is a popular plant for landscaping because it is easy to care for and does not require much water. It is also drought-tolerant. This cactus can be propagated from stem cuttings.

Summary

As you can see, there are many different types of cholla cacti. Each has its own unique appearance and characteristics. While they all fall under the cholla cactus family, each one is different. Be sure to do your research before you go out and purchase a cholla cactus!

Last update on 2024-02-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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