the white cholla

One of my favorite plants, Cylindropuntia imbricata, is blooming right now. Actually it’s a species in one of my favorite genera, since I like all the chollas, and except that border collies dislike hot weather, I would move to Arizona just to be able to grow them all.

Cylindropuntia imbricata (I’m already tired of typing this) is essentially a plant of the Chihuahuan Desert, but reaches up the I-25 corridor to Security, Colorado. There are other chollas that are perfectly hardy here, and some that are hardy until a winter comes along that’s not quite to their taste, and some that are hardy until it gets cold. But I really like this one.

The length of the tubercles is diagnostic.


I have a forest of them. (When people come over who are anxious to pull weeds, I send them into the forest and tell them to have at it.)

cholla forest

If you thought a cactus didn’t have leaves, you would be in error. The little green pointy things are the leaves. They fall away as this year’s sections grow.


And then there’s the white one. Okay, not quite white, but white enough. This was found by the late Mary Ann Heacock somewhere near Canon City, Colorado, a long time ago.

Years ago I got a phone call from her, she was looking for Opuntia ‘Claude Arno’, which at the time I didn’t grow. She had corresponded with Claude Barr for years, and wanted this as a memento. I guessed that she was lonely (I know the feeling) and so I invited us over to her house.

It was a small house in west Denver with the old asbestos siding and a tiny front yard. A tiny front yard with lithops that had overwintered for her, growing in a raised bed by the front door.

The back porch was a sun room, or greenhouse, built for her by her late husband, and housed a huge collection of Christmas cactus.

Out in back there was a sidewalk, probably originally leading to the incinerator the way they did back then, and on either side of the walk were all kinds of cactus, crested forms of this, unusual color forms of that. It was one of the most memorable gardens I’ve visited. I’d brought her a Pediocactus knowltonii grown from Mesa Garden seed, and as I handed it to her she said, “We used to call him ‘Cresty’ Knowlton, because he could spot a crest a mile away.”

She gave me cuttings of all kinds of treasures, including Opuntia heacockiae, and as we walked back to the house she pointed to the white cholla, told me the story, and asked me if I wanted a piece of it.

I said “Yes, please” and she went to the garage to get a pair of loppers and lopped off half the plant.

This is it. It suffered a little breakage under heavy snow a while back, and needs some support, but then, who doesn’t?

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