Cylindropuntia leptocaulis (DC.) F.M.Knuth
Desert Christmas Cactus, Desert Christmas Cholla, Pencil Cactus, Pencil Cholla, Tesajo Cactus,
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis var. leptocaulis, Grusonia leptocaulis, Opuntia leptocaulis,
This species is native to the United States (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) and Mexico (Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Durango, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas). It grows on sandy, loamy, or gravelly soils in deserts, grasslands, chaparral, woodlands, flats, bajadas, and slopes at elevations between 130 and 4,920 feet (40 and 1,500 m).
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis is a sparingly to densely branched cactus with slender branches that bear many short, commonly spineless branchlets arranged mostly at right angles. It grows up to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, usually as an erect shrub or sometimes as a small tree having a trunk measuring up to inches (10 cm) in diameter. Stem segments are gray-green or purplish, cylindrical, with linear tubercles that look like elongated wrinkles when dried. They are up to 3.2 inches (8 cm) long and 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) in diameter. Spines are absent or mostly in apical areoles of the main branches, usually one, but occasionally up to 3 per areole. They are straight or arching, red-brown with grey-white coating and yellow at the tip, and up to 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) long. There are also a few small yellow or reddish-brown glochids. The woolly areoles are white to yellow, becoming gray with age. Flowers are funnel-shaped, pale yellow to greenish-yellow, sometimes tipped red, up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long (including ovary), and up to 0.8 inches (2 cm) in diameter. Fruits are fleshy, smooth or covered in minute glochids, red, occasionally yellow, and contain pale-yellow seeds. They are obovate, up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) long, and up to 0.5 inches (1.2 cm) in diameter.
The specific epithet "leptocaulis (lep-toh-KAW-liss)" means "thin-stemmed, slender-stemmed" and refers to the slender branches of the species.
How to Grow and Care for Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
Light: C. leptocaulis thrives in full sun. Indoors, a window with access to sunlight for 6 hours a day works best. Some shade during midday and afternoon can prevent sunburn in very hot climates.
Soil: This cactus requires a soil mix that drains well. It prefers sandy or gravelly soil, but it can tolerate other soil types as long as there is good drainage. Use a commercial cactus potting mix, or create your own.
Temperature: Extremely tolerant of high temperatures, this cactus prefers cooler temperatures in winter. C. leptocaulis can withstand temperatures as low as 25 °F (-3.9 °C). USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 9b to 11b, 25 to 50 °F (-3.9 to 10 °C).
Watering: From spring to fall, water moderately and let the soil dry out completely before watering again. In most areas, rainfall will be enough for established plants. For a potted plant, never let the container sit in water. Suspend watering in winter.
Fertilizing: C. leptocaulis does not need fertilizer when planted in the ground. However, in a container, the plant will benefit from fertilization during the growing season. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer. Suspend feeding during the winter when the plant goes dormant.
Repotting: Repot only when your C. leptocaulis becomes potbound or is too large and unstable in its container. Choose a slightly larger container with drainage holes at the bottom. The best time for repotting is late winter or early spring.
Propagation: You can propagate C. leptocaulis by cuttings (stem segments) or seeds. Starting this cactus from seeds is a slow process, and it may take 3 to 4 years before you have a substantial plant. Propagation by stem segments is the easiest method and yields faster results. The best time to take cuttings is early summer. Sow the seeds in late spring.
Learn more at How to Grow and Care for Opuntia.
Toxicity of Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
C. leptocaulis is not toxic to humans or pets. However, keep it away from pets and children as it has glochids that may cause moderate skin irritation.
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