By: Teo Spengler
Chain cholla cactus bears two scientific names, Opuntia fulgida and Cylindropuntia fulgida, but it’s known to its fans simply as cholla. It’s native to the southwestern part of the country as well as Mexico. Those living in warmer climates can start growing chain cholla in their backyards. If you’d like a bit more chain cholla information, we’ll also give you tips on how to grow a chain cholla cactus.
Chain cholla cactus are most often seen growing in their native ranges in the Sonora Desert. The cactus grows to some 10 feet (3 m.) tall, with whorled stem segments. According to chain cholla information, the last segments on a branch break off pretty easily.
Many cacti have spines and the chain cholla cactus is no exception. The spines on this cactus are each bundled in a sheath, the color of straw. They form such a dense layer on the chain cholla cactus that it is hard to see the stem.
When you want to grow a chain cholla, it’s important to live in one of the warmer hardiness zones. Chain cholla won’t thrive in cool areas. So why grow these cacti? Those growing chain cholla plants enjoy both blossoms, in shades of pink ranging to deep magenta, and gray-green fruit.
The cactus is not very colorful, nor is it the most ornamental cactus. However, it is unique in that the fruits just keep coming. The plants keep producing more blossoms which produce more fruit, resulting in a chain of fruits – hence the common name.
If you are growing chain cholla, plant the cactus in a full sun location. These are desert plants and are not likely to appreciate shade.
Chain cholla plant care starts with well-draining soil. Think of how quickly desert sand passes water as you are settling in the chollas. You need soil that doesn’t hold onto water. And speaking of water, as with most cacti, chain cholla cactus only needs occasional irrigation.
In the right location, they are easy-care plants that won’t ask much of a gardener.
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Read more about Cholla Cactus
Chollas are among the most unpleasant of all cacti to accidentally brush up against since they’re covered in spines that bear tiny barbs that make them extremely difficult to remove from anything in which they become lodged. Merely brushing up against the cholla plant is enough to lodge their spines, so gardeners who grow cholla gardens should always take care not to touch them.
However, Cylindropuntia plants can work well when grown together, especially because of the weird aesthetic charm that these plants can have for instance, C. bigelovii, or the teddy bear cholla, has such soft-looking yellow spines that it resembles a stuffed animal. (Not that you’d be advised to hug them.) This is just one of about 30 species of chollas, and like many other species in its genus, the teddy bear cholla tends to drop its stems frequently to encourage further propagation.
Cacti themselves are a somewhat acquired taste, and even chollas can be hard to love because their spines have a special propensity to stick in anything that comes close. Nonetheless, lots of these plants are cultivated by cactus gardeners for their odd beauty, and like an ornery dog, you might eventually find something to love about chollas.
Note, however, that there exists some taxonomic confusion regarding this genus initially, these plants were considered part of Opuntia, but they’ve since been separated since their stems take on a different shape. Make sure, if you’re interested in these plants, that you know what you’re getting.
Cacti include many different types of plants. Succulents usually have small or no spines the flattened leaves are designed to hold water. The classic cacti have modified leaves in the form of needles and a fat stem that stores water. Cactus plants to consider are barrel cactus, prickly pears, aloes and agaves. Do not forget larger varieties like the totem pole cactus, saguaro and chain-fruit cholla.
When planting a cactus, wear long sleeves, pants and leather gloves for protection. Spines will go through most material, so wrap the very prickly cactus plants in a large towel when handling them. Do not plant them deeper than the arrangement in the plant pot. Do not water very frequently after planting to prevent transplant shock. After four to six weeks, soak the ground thoroughly and let the soil dry out completely before applying more water. Once the cacti start putting on new growth, they do not need any more water except rainwater.
Karen Carter spent three years as a technology specialist in the public school system and her writing has appeared in the "Willapa Harbor Herald" and the "Rogue College Byline." She has an Associate of Arts from Rogue Community College with a certificate in computer information systems.
Chain-fruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) has a central stout trunk when mature, with branches that bear long chains of persistent green fruits. The new season's flowers form on older fruits. Fruits rarely have seeds, with new plants growing from detached joints or fruits. Native to the Sonoran Desert, chain-fruit cholla grows 8 to 10 feet high in USDA zones 8 through 11, and has relatively small magenta flowers. Densely covered with golden to silvery spines that from a distance resemble plush on a stuffed animal, teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) almost glows in the landscape. The spines are hold-fast organs that attach to the fur and flesh of passing animals, which transport the easily-detached joints to new localities. Both chain-fruit and teddy bear cholla are sometimes called jumping cholla because stems suddenly appear on clothing of people who pass too close. Greenish-yellow 1 1/2-inch-wide flowers appear in spring on 3- to 8-feet-tall plants hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11.
Cathryn Chaney has worked as a gardening writer since 2002. Her horticultural experience working in the nursery industry informs her garden articles, especially those dealing with arid landscaping and drought-tolerant gardening. Chaney also writes poetry, which has appears in "Woman's World" magazine and elsewhere. Chaney graduated from the University of Arizona in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.