Native to the desert Southwest, including Texas, the chollas are garden-worthy plants for anyone trying to minimize water use in a dry landscape. Like their Opuntia relatives, they have sections. Unlike the flat Opuntia, these are cylindrical, as their name suggests. In a garden they are sculptural and offer showy flowers and fruit. Remarkably cold hardy and drought tolerant.
C. imbricata (Opuntia imbricata). CHAIN-LINK CACTUS, WALKING-STICK CHOLLA. Native from Colorado to Mexico. Treelike cactus with short trunk and branching, cylindrical stems; very slow growing, eventually reaching 36 ft. (sometimes as much as 10 ft.) tall. Never plant it near walkways or in gardens where children play; it has many sharp, inch-long spines as well as small, hairlike prickles that are more painful when they stick you (and harder to remove). Magenta, 2- to 3-in. blossoms in early summer; yellow, 112-in.-long fruits. Very cold hardy.
C. leptocaulis (Opuntia leptocaulis). DESERT CHRISTMAS CACTUS, CHRISTMAS CHOLLA, PENCIL CACTUS, TASAJILLO. Native to Texas and desert Southwest. To 2-3 ft. (rarely to 6 ft.) high and equally wide. Joints are 1-12 in. long, in. thick, and have 1- to 2-in.-long spines. Spring flowers, to in. across, are green to yellow. Fleshy fruits about the size and shape of olives mature from green to red, usually around Christmastime and hang on all winter. Very striking cold-hardy species.