Etymology -The name simply means cylindrical Opuntia referring to the stems
Collectively known in the vernacular as "Cholla", the species of the genus Cylindropuntia are rarely grown except by die-hard Opuntia-lovers. Despite their absence in cultivation, Chollas are quite well known. This is one of the most prolific and prominent cactus genera of the deserts of the Southwest United States and Northern Mexico. As a whole, Cylindropuntia consists of segmented cylindrical stems which grow in the form of small trees rarely exceeding 10 feet in height. Most of the species have tuberculate stems that are heavily armed with spines. The spines of this genus are covered in a papery sheath, which may fall of in time. This sheath gives some species a silvery or gold appearance. It makes plants appear to glow in the morning or evening when the sun is low and the plant is between sun and observer. The spines are also quite fiercely reverse-barbed which makes them grab firmly to the skin of unwitting passers-by and are consequently very painful to remove. Likewise, some species have stem-segments which detach easily and this combination of characteristics has earned several the common name of "Jumping Cholla". This being because the grab and detach trait is so surprising, one is under the impression the cactus jumped to grab hold of the victim. In this manner, species of Cylindropuntia can be spread and propagated by passing animals as any of the stem segments will grow into a new plant.
Flowers are cup-shaped, waxy, and often yellow however, they may be red, orange, or even translucent green. Some species may have multiple flower colors from plant to plant. The fruits of Cylindropuntia are especially useful in identification based on color, spines, overall shape,etc. Cylindropuntia are also among the most drought and heat tolerant of any species. Their dense spine cover and thin stems making them well equipped to fend off the powerful desert sun. In the harsher areas of the North American deserts, a Cholla may be the only cactus present where only creosote bush (Larrea tridentada) grows as its companion.