Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Christmas cactus

with 8 comments

Appropriately enough for today’s date, here’s a photograph of a dense and intricate Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, known as (desert) Christmas cactus and (desert) Christmas cholla, as well as pencil cactus and tasajillo. Notice how woody the stems become when tasajillo ages, and also in this case the way those woody stems bent downward as they grew.

I photographed this Christmas cactus at the Spring Lake Natural Area in San Marcos on November 15th, during the same session that brought you pictures of hierba del marrano, ball moss, and most notably a bird holding a frog in its bill.

To see the places in the southwestern United States where Cylindropuntia leptocaulis grows, you can check out the state-clickable map at the USDA website. In addition, tasajillo is native in parts of northern Mexico.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2012 at 6:16 AM

8 Responses

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  1. I don’t know if it’s the same as yours which we keep indoors, this one is very woody/ I like very much this cactus.


    December 25, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    • From what I’ve read, there are various species that people have called Christmas cactus, including the house plants in the genus Schlumberga, which may be what you’re referring to. I’ve not known anyone who has kept Cylindropuntia leptocaulis indoors. I’m glad you find our native Texas Christmas cactus appealing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2012 at 1:24 PM

  2. This is one cactus that will leave a spine in you and I had many encounters with this one while growing up on a farm. If it happens to grow just right it can almost be called pretty.


    December 25, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    • I’ve had a few encounters with it, too, and I still find it pretty, especially when it becomes stately the way this one had.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2012 at 1:25 PM

  3. This is a wonderful example of why scientific names are so important. Not only can this Christmas cactus be confused with the tropical Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgessii , I’ve always known Euphorbia tirucalli as “pencil cactus” – even though it’s not a cactus at all and certainly not related to this beauty.

    The fruits appear to be similar to the fruit of the prickly pear. Do you know if they’re also used for food?


    December 25, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    • Yes, a single common name can refer to various species, and a given species can be known by different common names. As you pointed out, one “cactus” is actually a Euphorbia.

      You’re correct again in noting that the fruits of this cactus are similar to those of the prickly pear. I’ve read in several books that tasajillo fruits are edible, but they’re a lot smaller than the tunas of the prickly pear, so I can’t see that all the work you’d have to go through to harvest them would be worth it.

      Tasajillo fruits are unusual because a new cactus joint can grow out of the distal end of one. I can’t think of any other fruit that knows how to do that trick.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2012 at 10:39 PM

  4. Hope you had a Merry Christmas Steve!

    Michael Glover

    December 25, 2012 at 10:46 PM

    • Same to you, Michael. Among other things, I did what you might have expected me to do: I took pictures in nature. You’ll see one in the next post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2012 at 2:38 AM

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