Around 30 to 35 species of cholla cacti have been identified till date, and they belong to the genus Cylindropuntia. Earlier, these cactus plants were included in the genus Opuntia, but now, this genus contains cacti with flattened stems (like prickly pear) only. The characteristic feature of cholla cacti is their cylindrical stems. While most of the species of cholla cacti are seen in North America, some of them are found in other parts too. Given below are some interesting facts about cholla cactus.
- The succulent stems of cholla cacti serve the purpose of water storage, photosynthesis, production of flowers and fruits, etc. In fact, these succulent stems are modified branches.
- These cacti have papery sheaths which cover the spines. Such sheaths are colorful in some species, and this is the reason for the plant's unique appearance.
- These papery sheaths are meant for reflecting sunlight, and protect the stems from extreme heat. Most of the cholla cacti that grow in extreme heat have their stems covered with lots of spines.
- While in most species, leaves are modified to spines; some may produce leaves, just before flowering.
- The color of cholla cactus flowers may range between yellow-green to reddish shades, as seen in different species. Most of them are shrubs and trees, but there are some creepers too.
- Cholla cactus wood is used as bird perches, for making handicrafts, etc.
- The most commonly found species are jumping cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida) and teddy bear cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii).
- The stems of the jumping cholla detach easily, and are often found to get attached to the clothes and skin of the passers-by. It feels like the stems jumped on the passers-by, and hence the name. It is also called hanging cholla, as the fruits form a chain and hang down.
- In case of teddy bear cholla, the plant appears soft and furry from a distance, as the stems are completely covered with spines. So this cactus is called teddy bear cholla.
- Another species is called silver cholla, as it has silvery spines. There are many other species of cholla cacti and some of them are grown in cacti garden.
Growing Cholla Cactus
In order to grow a cholla cactus garden, you must have a basic knowhow about the requirements of these plants. First of all, check the soil pH levels. The ideal pH for this cactus is between 6.0 to 7.5. If the soil is too acidic, you may add lime; and if it is alkaline, sulfur will be best to obtain the desired pH level. The location where you plan to grow the cholla cactus must have at least six hours of full sunlight in a day. Another important factor is well-drained soil, as soggy soil can result in rotting of the plant. You may do a little composting, and add sand to the soil, to make it fit for growing cholla cactus. Once done, dig a hole that can accommodate the root ball of the plant comfortably.
Use thick clothes or carpet pieces to hold and handle these cacti, so as to avoid the spines from hurting your skin. Place the plant in the hole, and cover the hole with soil. Water the cholla cactus thoroughly after planting. Reduce the frequency of watering to once in six to eight days for the first month. During summers, the plant will need water once a week. During winters, water sparingly. While fertilizers are not needed for this plant, you may use a balanced fertilizer in small amounts, during the growing season.