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Pencil Cholla, Desert Christmas Cactus, Christmas Cholla, Garambullo, Tasadijillo, Tasajillo, Tesage, Rat-tail Cactus, Slender Stem Cactus
Opuntia leptocaulis


The most widespread of all our chollas grows between 1000 and 5000 feet, usually west of the Brazos River in South and West Texas, through Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona to California and into Mexico, favoring the heavier soils of desert flats. Although pencil cholla is found in all soil types, it prefers sandy and heavier bottomland soils, often along fence rows and under trees from bird deposits. This upright or occasionally sprawling (rarely vinelike) cactus is usually bushy and thicket-forming, reaching 1 1/2 to 6 1/2 feet and having a trunk or main stem measuring 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter. The slender, cylindric stems exhibit various shades of green, and feature a solid, woody internal core. The conspicuous, very slender and loose-fitting white to grey 3/4- to 2-inch spines with tan sheaths occur usually one per areole and are not noticeably barbed. It is occasionally spineless. There are few small glochids. The pallid flowers appear mid-summer at irregular intervals, opening usually in the late evening. Pencil cholla grows best under the protection of other vegetation and tends to be obscured from view until its conspicuous bright red grape-size fruits become apparent in the late fall and winter when most of the desert shrubs have lost their foliage. It provides nesting sites for cactus wrens, and is a good food source for white tail deer, bobwhite quail, wild turkey and most birds and small mammals which feast on the berries. Its ornamental value in a xeric landscape is especially valuable as it stands out in the bleak winter vegetation. Leptocaulis means slender-stemmed.

Plant Habit or Use: small shrub
medium shrub

Exposure: sun

Flower Color: green - yellow or bronze

Blooming Period: summer

Fruit Characteristics: oval, bright red, rarely yellow, fleshy, juicy, persistent

Height: 2 to 6 feet

Width: 3 feet

Plant Character: evergreen

Heat Tolerance: very high

Water Requirements:

Soil Requirements: neutral

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7

Additional Comments:

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