Cholla cacti are interesting species in that they have an abundance of very sharp, barbed spines and many have flower buds that are edible as well as edible fruit.
These cacti are multi-branching with cylindroid joints. The reason this genus of cacti is so successful in the wild is how the plant reproduces itself. The spines will attach themselves to anyone or anything that walks past and a small piece will break off. Once discarded, this piece will root wherever it lands.
As you can imagine, in some countries where these cactus plants have been introduced, they are considered noxious weeds. This is precisely why these interesting-looking cacti are much better grown in pots and kept under control.
There are around 35 species of Cholla cactus and we’re going to look at the more common ones that you can grow.
Buckhorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa)
When growing in the wild, the buckhorn cholla can reach a height of around 10 feet. The stems are yellow-green in damp weather and purple-green when it’s dry. These stems are covered with short brown spines that range in length from 0.5 to 1.5 inches.
This cactus branches profusely and the stems can grow in all directions. Therefore, this plant has rather an untidy growth pattern. The flowers can be either pink, red, orange, or yellow-green and are usually 2 inches in diameter. The plant also produces fruit that is green and also spiny.
Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata)
Also commonly known as the tree cholla, this cactus can grow up to 8 feet tall in its native habitat. This plant has a strong central trunk from where the stems branch. From a distance, the stems appear rope-like with their many segments or tubercules. Each stem has numerous spines that are around 1 inch long.
The flowers on this species of Cholla cactus are either pink or purple and are bow-shaped with a diameter of around 3 inches. These are attractive to bees and butterflies. The flowers are followed by yellow fruits that will persist on the plant for many months. In the wild, these fruits provide food for a number of wild birds and mammals.
Chain Fruit Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida)
The chain fruit cholla is also commonly known as the jumping cholla. It’s a tree-like cactus that can grow up to 13 feet tall when it grows in the wild. In some parts of the world such as Australia and South Africa, this plant has been identified as an invasive species. Therefore, it’s best to grow this cactus indoors in a pot to keep it under control.
The branches of this cactus are light green and covered with 1.2 inch long silvery-yellow spines. The flowers are white and pink and can be streaked with lavender. The fruits of the jumping cholla are fleshy and green, to begin with, and then mature to a gray-green color. They are spineless and pear-shaped.
The reason that this plant was given the common name of chain fruit cholla is that the fruits will stay on the plant and continue to produce more flowers that in turn, produce more fruits. Hence, the plant produces chains of fruit.
Desert Christmas Cactus (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis)
This interesting-looking cholla has bright red fruits displayed along the slender green stems. That’s why it’s called the desert Christmas cactus. This cactus has the slenderest stems of all species of Cholla. As the stems age, they take on a woody appearance. The spines can be as long as two and a half inches.
The plant produces green, yellow, or bronze flowers followed by red fruit. The fruits on this Cholla are edible.
Diamond Cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)
The diamond cholla is also commonly known as the branched pencil cholla due to its slender stems. The tubercules on each stem section are diamond-shaped and hence the other common name of diamond cholla. When kept nicely shaped, this cactus makes an attractive specimen to grow in a pot.
Interestingly, the presence of long, sharp spines varies with each plant. Some plants can have completely spineless stems while others are densely spined. The flowers on these plants can be either pale yellow or rosy pink. The resulting fruit is very spiny and dry.
Hudson Pear (Cylindropuntia rosea)
This is another very spiny cactus that produces lovely rose-colored flowers. The spines are quite long and very sharp but have a papery sheath. The fruit on this cactus is yellow and spiny.
Pencil Cholla (Cylindropuntia arbuscula)
The pencil cholla has scary-looking long, sharp spines that grow from wooly areoles on the pencil-shaped stems. These stems can be around 6 inches long and can form dense branches. In its native habitat, this cactus can grow up to 9 feet tall. However, when grown in a pot, it can be contained to a much smaller height.
The flowers are quite pretty and unusual. They’re generally bright yellow to bronze or even bright red with bright yellow stamen. The fruits are usually fleshy and green and have no spines.
Spiny Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosoir)
This Cholla cactus has the prettiest bright pink flowers that peer out innocently from the very sharp and dangerous-looking spines. This plant is also sometimes called the walkingstick cactus. The stems are bright green and widely branched.
This is another Cholla that would make an attractive pot-grown specimen, especially if its shape is maintained. However, care must be taken as it has numerous long, sharp spines that could inflict pain if they got stuck in your fingers.
Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)
The interesting thing about this Cholla is that the spines can be of various colors. These include white, pink, reddish-brown, or gray. This is an open branching specimen with mostly green stems that are, of course, heavily spined.
The flowers on this cactus can also be a variety of colors from yellow to bronze, rose, or magenta. The fruits are either yellow-green or red-purple and form chains just like the chain fruit cholla.
Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
This is perhaps the most commonly grown Cholla because of its interesting and uniform shape and its fuzzy, teddy-bear-like appearance. At least from afar. When you get up close, you’ll immediately notice that the fuzziness is actually very closely packed short sharp spines. When the sun hits these spines, they glisten, making the entire plant appear to have a golden glow.
In spring and summer, this cactus produces greenish-yellow flowers that are often streaked with lavender.
Whipple’s Cholla (Cylindropuntia whipplei)
This is a smaller growing cactus that lends itself beautifully to growing in a pot. Just mind those sharp spines. It produces interesting yellowy-green flowers that open up fully to reveal the mass of yellow stamens within. The fruits are also yellowish-green and are fleshy and spineless.