I love the mesmerizing beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert in the Lone Star State. This is iconic cowboy country that easily conjures up images of the old west. The more I wander through this region, the more I want to learn about the distinctive plants that give the vistas a beauty all their own. On a recent visit to the Guadalupe Mountains, I became acquainted with the walking stick cholla — an easy to identify member of the cactus family. Here are five interesting facts about this really cool-looking plant.
1. Walking Stick Cholla has some really cool aliases.
Most plants that grow in the Chihuahua Desert are known by more than one name. The walking stick cholla (pronounced cho-ya) certainly has its fair share of Native American and Spanish names, many inspired by the features of the plant. The cholla is also known as cane cholla, tree cholla (because it resembles a small tree), tree cactus, candelabrum cactus, devil’s rope, coyote prickly pear, tuna quell, and velas (candles) de coyote.
2. People either love or hate the walking stick cholla.
In its native desert environment, the cholla is regarded by some as a weedy and troublesome pest. This hardy cacti can quickly reproduce. Fallen joints can easily form roots and produce new plants that spread and take over rangelands. However, to those who love xeric landscapes, cholla is regarded as a beautiful sculptural addition to a low-maintenance garden.
The walking stick cholla produces a distinctive yellow fruit that is often mistaken for flowers. This fruit lasts throughout the winter months and is a source of nutrition for wild birds, pronghorn antelope, desert bighorn sheep, and deer. The calcium-rich fruit of some species is edible either raw or boiled and is a good source of fiber. The cholla fruit is also used in dye production.
As with all cacti, beware of the thorny spines that grow around the perimeter of the candelabra-like branches of the walking stick cholla. The vicious barbed spines have earned it the nickname devil’s rope and are tough enough to penetrate leather gloves. So, handle with care. In contrast to its spines, the cholla produces purple or magenta flowers that add to the beauty of the desert landscape.
5. Dead walking stick cholla stems have a beauty all their own.
Dried cholla wood is a good source of firewood. When dead stems decay, they reveal a hollow wooden tube with a beautiful pattern of slits. These dried cylindrical branches are sometimes used as walking sticks or canes or to make picture frames, tool handles, and other curio-like items.