Cylindropuntia leptocaulis

Christmas Cholla - Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
East of Hillsboro, New Mexico, USA

The Christmas Cholla (Desert Christmas Cholla in some sources), Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, is a low growing species, it is generally about two feet tall.  It is found at lower elevations.  The individual shown here was found at about the highest elevation this species grows.  We found it near the Hall Mine on the south rim of the Percha Box, east of Hillsboro.

I have not seen this species in flower, but the fruit is beautiful and very cholla-like in shape.  Perhaps the thing which struck me most about the plant were the spines, which seemed oversized for the plant.  The circumference of the stems is similar to that of a pencil or pen.

As shown in the BONAP map to the right, this species has a limited range within the United States (light green means that the species is found in the county indicated and is not rare).  It is also found in Northern Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas.  It flowers in spring and early summer (but sometimes in the early fall as well).

The red berries can have “an intoxicating effect” when consumed.  The Apache (Mescalero and Chiricahua) used the berries as a narcotic.  The Pima ate the berries raw, as a food source.

In the past, this species was included in the genus Opuntia, as Opuntia leptocaulis.


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© Robert Barnes 2018