Desert Christmas CactusCylindropunta leptocaulis (Opuntia leptocaulis)
Arizona's native Desert Christmas Cactus bears little resemblance to the showy cultivated cousins marketed during the holidays. A member of the cholla cactus family, this species spends most of the year as a mop-like tangle of slender stems with aggressive-looking, two inch spines. The spidery, plant grows in hip-high tickets and when not in bloom or bearing fruit, its dull green color and woody textures can make it appear "dead" to the untrained eye. The edible, half-inch-long fruits are covered in stickers called glochids, which must be scraped off before consumption. This time-consuming process yields handfuls of mildly sweet treats.
Blooms: May - June
Fruits: all winter but best in November-December
Elevation: 1000' - 4,000'
Habitat: deserts, bajadas, grasslands
Photo: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale