Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Plant Profile: Desert Christmas Cactus

Desert Christmas Cactus
Cylindropunta leptocaulis (Opuntia leptocaulis)
Take a hike on the Maricopa Trail to spot this common, but often overlooked cactus.
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.
However, in the cooler months when most other desert flora is dormant, this cactus adds bursts of vivid fuchsia to the landscape.Also known as the "pencil cholla" and Tesajo cactus, the plant produces tiny, translucent yellow-green blooms in summer followed by fleshy, bright red berries that mature in winter.
Blooms: May - June
Fruits: all winter but best in November-December
Elevation: 1000' - 4,000'
Habitat: deserts, bajadas, grasslands
Photo: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale

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