The strong architectural lines of this slow growing, striking cactus are apparent even as small plants, but when they reach maturity they are awesome. A spectacular specimen lives at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Like all cacti it is happy with drought conditions, but this one can also survive in the colder regions of our country. Yes, it does have serious spines that need to be handled with care, but it will reward you with prolific magenta blooms in summer followed by showy yellow fruits. It is easy to propagate from seed or by cuttings, just be sure to allow the cut end to callous before planting. And don’t let the mature size scare you away – consider it as a container plant. The pruned branches can be easily grown into more plants and shared.
Common Name: Chain-link cactus, tall cholla, giant tree cholla
Botanical Name: Cylindropuntia imbricata
Color: Soft gray-green stems, magenta flowers, yellow fruit
Size: 10-12 feet tall x 6-8 feet wide
Cold Hardiness: Zones 4-11
Type: Evergreen perennial succulent
Exposure: Full sun
How to Plant: Plant with base of plant slightly above soil level. Mulch to keep away from wet soil. Pebbles or gravel is the preferred mulch. Can be grown from seed; direct sow after the last frost.
Soil: Sandy, coarse, very well-drained soil. Amend heavy soil with coarse sand and/or grit. Will tolerate mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soils.
Watering: Prefers dry conditions. Minimal watering.
Fertilizer: An application of a slow-release fertilizer in the spring, although none is required.
In the Landscape: Excellent for rock gardens and xeriscapes, although its potentially large size should be considered. Beautiful as a specimen in a container.
Where to Find: Check online sources such as cactusstore.com for availability. Piccadilly Farms near Athens also has container-grown plants.
(From Georgia Gardening Volume IX Issue VIII. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Hudak.)