Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Christmas cactus

with 29 comments

Christmas cactus; click for greater detail.

Given that today is December 25, it’s only appropriate to present you with a picture of Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, or Christmas cactus, so called for its green joints and bright red fruits that compensate for their small size by appearing in large numbers and by lasting into the winter. The plant’s slender and roughly cylindrical joints have inspired the alternate name pencil cactus. Yet another name is tasajillo, a diminutive of the Spanish tasajo that means ‘jerky,’ though I confess I don’t know what part of the plant reminded people of preserved meat.

This multiply named cactus is native to northern Mexico and to the parts of the southwestern United States shown on the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2011 at 5:05 AM

29 Responses

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  1. Very pretty!

    Merry Christmas!


    December 25, 2011 at 6:53 AM

  2. Happy Holidays!

    Bonnie Michelle

    December 25, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    • Thanks, Bonnie. The same to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    • I wanted to reply to your comment regarding the chair in a recent post I did. You are absolutely right! This photograph was taken at our arts venue in Bethlehem. There are numerous theatrical mask chairs in the building. Children love them!

      Bonnie Michelle

      December 26, 2011 at 9:11 AM

  3. Beautiful holiday morning greeting!


    December 25, 2011 at 8:20 AM

  4. Thank you for your daily pix! I use them for meditation. You’re an inspiration, Steve! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!! : )

    Renee Voss

    December 25, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    • You’re welcome, Renee. Our native plants would be pleased to know they inspire your meditations. Happy holidays to you too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2011 at 10:28 AM

  5. Beautiful plant and photo. Merry Christmas!


    December 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM

  6. Very different from the one that’s hanging in our window. 🙂 Lovely Christmas-y berries, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    December 25, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    • I’ve learned that several other species go by the name Christmas cactus, so it’s possible yours really is a different kind from the one that’s so common here. Whichever sort yours is, I’m glad to hear it graces your window.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2011 at 10:33 AM

      • It is actually in the cactus family and is grown widely as a houseplant. The are a few varieties that bloom at different times and are also known as Thanksgiving Cactus for the timing.

        Steve Gingold

        December 25, 2011 at 10:44 AM

      • I see what you mean: that one is nothing like ours in central Texas. One of the pitfalls of using a common name rather than a scientific one.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 25, 2011 at 7:33 PM

  7. I went looking for this one to have shipped to me to grow in a pot… All the pictures had plants with TWO INCH THORNS!!! Yikes! I think I would much prefer yours, but have no idea where to procure one. 😦 Guess I will keep searching. 😉 ~ Lynda


    December 25, 2011 at 4:41 PM

  8. Very pretty. Hope you had a great Christmas!


    December 26, 2011 at 6:49 PM

  9. This is an interesting one. I have four quite large “Christmas cacti” which are of the blooming houseplant variety – two pink, one red and one white. They’re not at all like your photo. On the other hand, the pencil cactus I knew in Key West is nothing like this pencil cactus, either – it has no thorns, and it can become tree-sized.

    This is brand new to me, and lovely as can be. The fruits look very much like prickly pear – do you know if they’re edible?


    December 30, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    • It seems that people have applied the phrase “Christmas cactus” to various unrelated plants, as you noted. Cylindropuntia leptocaulis is quite common in central Texas, and if you keep an eye out for it the next time you’re in this part of the state, I’ll bet you see some.

      The fruits, which do like a lot like miniature versions of prickly pear tunas, are reported to be edible, though it seems you’d have to put in a lot of painstaking (i.e. pain-avoiding) work for such a small reward.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 1:14 AM

  10. […] post for December 25, 2011, appropriately showed a Christmas cactus, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis. The cactus in today’s photograph, which shows the view looking […]

  11. I was expecting the regular Christmas cactus when I looked back. Both of these plants are new to me, and very attractive. So much to learn…


    April 20, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    • As you’ve confirmed, a common name for a plant—in this case Christmas cactus—can apply to more than one species. Even scientific names can be ambiguous, though they’re not supposed to be. You’re right that there’s so much to learn. Taking a photograph is often easier than figuring out what I’ve taken a photograph of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 20, 2012 at 8:53 AM

  12. Very different than mine, isn’t it?!! I suppose anything red and green has been so dubbed. Enjoy your day!! ~SueBee

    SueBee and Kat

    December 25, 2014 at 10:47 AM

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