My motives weren't entirely altruistic. Once you get past their forbidding exterior, these are more than acceptable landscape plants, in my view. (I'm not sure kids would be as wary of them as the dogs are, but they too would learn in time.) That they are alive was confirmed by the fact that, though sprawled horizontally for a week or two, the tips had already turned up, toward the light. It's tough to kill a cactus, but it's always easier to do it with kindness than with neglect.
This cholla, Cylindropuntia imbricata, is the only species of its type to occur naturally in eastern Colorado, as far as I can tell, though we are surrounded south and west by states with many more species. (C. whipplei occurs in a few southwestern counties.) As you can see, it is not reported from the county (triangle) where Foothills Fancies is based. Like coyote gourd, it is another outlier, or perhaps an introduction, in these more northern sites. (Map adapted from USDA Plants Database.)
Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Family Cactaceae – Cactus family
Genus Cylindropuntia (Engelm.) Kreuzinger
Species Cylindropuntia imbricata (Haw.) F.M. Knuth
– tree cholla
By the way, I've never actually heard anyone call it tree cholla, but maybe that's because it doesn't actually occur around here. Our other source, Weber's Colorado Flora, calls it "Candelabra Cactus." I suspect the "tree" name translates an older scientific name, Opuntia arborescens, given it by George Engelmann himself.
Here's what the one in my yard looks like today. I know, kinda droopy and repulsive. The yellowish fruits hang around all winter, until they rot or new growth pushes them off, I guess.
Ahh, but this is what it looked in recent memory, given an appropriate spring/summer.
Then, every bee and nectar-loving winged thing anywhere in the vicinity was happy, very happy, with this plant. For its ability to attract pollinators alone, this plant is worth having in your yard! Click to see insects at work.
Back to our bucket—here's a quick lesson in cholla anatomy. These branches are, of course, main stems. Leaves are briefly apparent only in season. Spines come in clusters at locations called areoles, usually at the end of bumps called tubercles. The fuzzy look to the areoles relates to the presence of tiny glochids, which our source** says are "inconsequential" here. (On other Opuntia species, it does not pay to dismiss the glochids so lightly.) One does not handle these without gloves or, preferably, tongs. Long-handled tongs.
Here's a bug's eye view. If you'd like one of these cute fuzzy stray kittens for your very own, call me!
Now I just have to go back and finish off the Myrtle Spurge that's escaping that same neighborhood yard!
* I have trouble with the idea that living beings are disposable; hence my difficulties with Poinsettia as well.
** Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope, W.A. Weber, 1990. But see also Catalog of the Colorado Flora (which eludes me at the moment) and Flora of North America.