Family: Cactaceae
Habitat: South-central United States, Mexico, and the West Indies.
Cultivation: Not so difficult. Exposure to full sun, watering unfrequent, mild temperatures and a well draining soil will do well.
Curiosity: This names is made of the words “cylindro”, meaning cylindrical, and “Opuntia”, reminding to the similarities between cylindropuntias and opuntias.


Cylindropuntia is a genus of plants belonging to the family of Cactaceae. It was previously a subgenus of the more common Opuntia, but it’s been separated from it due to the cylindrical stems and the sheats of its spines, features both absent in Opuntias. It includes around 35 species of cacti, native to south-central United States, Mexico, and the West Indies.

Cylindropuntias are bushes or little trees, rather branched, reaching a maximum height of 10 meters. These plants are also commonly known as ‘Cholla’ – a term by which they are called in the places of its origin.

The habitat of most Cylindropuntias is the desert: in particular, in sandy or gravelly areas in arid plains. In such places, Cylindropuntia are numerous and stand out as the only tall, green plants, surrounded by low grasses which may remain brown and dry all over the year. In its natural habitat, the fruits are eaten by many birds and mammals, including deers, which are responsible of the spread of seeds.

Their stems are cylindrical or slightly flattened as if disk-shaped. Like the stems of Opuntias, they are divided into many segments. Their areoles are equipped with glochids. Glochids are hair-like spines, generally barbed, found on the areoles of cacti in the sub-family Opuntioideae. They remain attached in the skin after touching the plant, causing irritation upon contact. In some Opuntioidae, thus in some Opuntia and Cylindropuntia species, the tufts of glochids in the areoles nearly cover the stem surfaces.
The numerous, sheated glochids covering the stem give to it a silvery appearance.

The glochids, though being very annoying for us, are a really successfull evolutionary device for Cylindropuntias: in their natural environment, in facts, they can be so sticky to the animals hair that entire segments of the plant remain attached to it. The animals then transport the part of the plant with their movement until they manage to get rid of it: at that point it’s easy for the detatched segment to put roots in the new place and to form a new plant. Not every species of Cylindropuntias has glochids: a few of them possue normal spines, born by areolas located on the top of numerous tubercles. The stems, due to these tubercles, appear very lumpy in some species, such as C. bigeowii and C. whippley, though maintaining their overall cylindric, slender shape.

Flowers can show different colors depending on the species: from green, to yellow, red or purple. They end up to form almost spherical to cylindric fruits, usually fleshy but also dry in some species. The fruit can be equipped with small thorns and range from red, to green to yellow. They host small, yellowish to brown flattened seeds, with a maximum diameter of 5 millimeters.


Here below are the species of Cylindropuntia:

  • C. abyssi
  • C. acanthocarpa
  • C. alcahes
  • C. anteojoensis
  • C. arbuscula
  • C. bigelovii
  • C. californica
  • C. calmalliana
  • C. caribaea
  • C. cedrosensis
  • C. cholla
  • C. ×congesta
  • C. davisii
  • C. ×deserta
  • C. echinocarpa
  • C. ×fosbergii
  • C. fulgida
  • C. ganderi
  • C. imbricata
  • C. ×kelvinensis
  • C. leptocaulis
  • C. lindsayi
  • C. molesta
  • C. ×multigeniculata
  • C. munzii
  • C. ×neoarbuscula
  • C. prolifera
  • C. ramosissima
  • C. rosea
  • C. sanfelipensis
  • C. santamaria
  • C. spinosior
  • C. tesajo
  • C. ×tetracantha
  • C. thurberi
  • C. tunicata
  • C. versicolor
  • C. ×viridiflora
  • C. ×vivipara
  • C. whipplei
  • C. wolfii

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Cylindropuntias are very tough plants and thus easy to cultivate, perfect fpr beginners! Here are our cultivation tips:

  • Put it in a bright spot, exposed to direct sunlight.
  • It loves warm climates: it’s better to keep it indoors in winter as it cannot stand temperature below 8ºC
  • Water regularly in Summer and more sparingly in Autumn, to end up suspending any irrigation in Winter. Always wait for the soil to dry up completely before each watering
  • Use a well-draining substrate to host your Cylindropuntia: a standard soil for cacti will suit well.
  • Fertilization is rarely necessary: once a year during the spring will be sufficient, using a specific fertilizer for cacti.
  • Repotting will be necessary almost every year as this is a fast-growing plant.

Propagation can be carried out either through seeds and through cuttings. Cuttings easily put roots: leave them to dry for a few days and then plant them in a sandy substrate. It’s also possible to use the numerous offsets produced by this plant as propagules, by simply transplanting them where you want.

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