Desert Christmas Cactus

Opuntia leptocaulis


Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of western Arizona, east New Mexico, Texas and south to northern Mexico.


Desert slopes, washes and flat areas from 1,000 to 4,000 feet.


Greenish-yellow to bronze flowers up to 1 inch wide, bloom along the stems May and June.


Fleshy, bright red, 1/2-inch-long globular fruits remain on the stems throughout the winter.


Christmas Cactus, also known as Tsejo, Christmas, Cholla, Pencil-joint Cholla, Holycross Cholla, Diamond Cactus and Darning Needle Cactus, has the most slender stems of all southwestern chollas.

Many tangled, spiny branches sprout thin, 1/4-inch stems forming a bush up to 3 feet high in the open, up to 6 feet when growing among desert trees. One long gray or tan spine up to 2 inches long grows from each small cluster of reddish bristles.

Although there are cultivated varieties of cactus and euphorbia called Christmas Cactus, the native Opuntia leptocaulis acquired the name because its bright red fruits provide a colorful contrast to the brown deserts during the Christmas season.

-- A.R. Royo

Photo tips

Most digital point-and-shoot cameras have a macro function - usually symbolized by the icon of a little flower. When you turn on that function, you allow your camera to get closer to the subject, looking into a flower for example. Or getting up close and personal with a bug. More on desert photography.


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