Scientific name: Cylindropuntia viridiflora (synonym: Opuntia viridiflora)

Cylindropuntia viridiflora (photo: Cactus Rescue Project).

Plant Family: Cactaceae
Common name: Santa Fe cholla

Article by Susan Bruneni

A very special cactus in the xeric “Dry Garden” within the Botanical Garden at Museum Hill is the Santa Fe cholla.  This bushy cholla was headed for extinction, mainly because it flourished on land prized by developers who did not recognize its rarity. The few remaining plants were located in the Cross of the Martyrs park, immune from bulldozing, and a few more near Pojoaque. But Santa Fe cholla is now dotting gardens around Santa Fe and the southwest, thanks to the efforts of the Cactus Rescue Project (CRP). The Santa Fe cholla is smaller and bushier than the more common tree cholla found in Santa Fe. Its blooms are bronze or salmon.

Planting plan for the xeric “Dry Garden.” (Design by W. Gary Smith, Landscape architect).

The Dry Garden is a xeric garden which relies almost entirely on rainwater and features a sophisticated plant palette with dramatic textures, forms and colors of the Santa Fe and landscape. It is divided into zones referred to as: “hot spots” of color perennials and bulbs, “hot boxes” which are plants that thrive in heat (agave, yucca, cacti, etc.), and a “xeric trough” planted with wooly veronica and three species of thyme above the retaining wall enclosing the garden. The trough has been designed to collect stormwater from the uphill slope, and providing supplemental water for the plants growing there.

The Cactus Rescue Project is responsible for donating and planting the Santa Fe cholla and a number of the cacti at Museum Hill. (See complete list at bottom).  When CRP co-founder John “Obie” Oberhausen moved to Santa Fe six years ago, he fell in love with hiking in the high desert, where the beauty of cacti in bloom further enchanted him, and he began planting cactus in his own garden. When Obie learned about the plight of the endangered Santa Fe cholla, he and Joe Newman created the Cactus Rescue Project to save this endangered plant. Obie and Joe were determined that two novices could save the Santa Fe cholla. They began with seeds and “joints” they rooted and their gardens kept growing.

They now distribute plants to nurseries and individuals and have donated them to community cactus projects in Eldorado and Museum Hill,  and established them in private cactus gardens. CRP has expanded its mission to promote the use of cactus in landscaping. “A great thing about the Museum Hill Dry Garden is that people can actually visit to see which cacti thrive in our locale. Many people are surprised to see how many cacti grow well here,” says Obie.

Santa Fe cholla bloom (courtesy of Cactus Rescue Project).

“Developers most likely did not realize that the Santa Fe cholla was not one of the abundant tree chollas in Santa Fe, and made no attempt to save it,” he continued.

“Cactus grow well, do not require much care and now as we are entering a dryer climate cycle, they can add beauty through shape and texture without needing water. Many residents who do not hike in areas where cacti grow are unaware of the beauty they provide.”

“When planting, I use arroyo sand or pulverized lava mixed with native soil to keep the ground from becoming too hard. I water the plant in to secure it, and maybe water slightly two weeks later. That is all a cactus needs,” he continued.

When Santa Fe chollas bloom in June, keep your eyes peeled for a bronze or salmon surprise where cactus are planted.  You might be seeing a little cholla that could have vanished without the efforts of determined residents who came to its rescue.

List of plants donated to Museum Hill by Cactus Rescue Project:

Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’ Snow Leopard cholla
Cylindropuntia viridiflora Santa Fe cholla
Cylindropuntia kleiniae Klein’s cholla
Echinocereus triglochidiatus Claretcup cactus
Echinocereus coccineus Claretcup hedgehog
Opuntia ‘Dark Knight’ Dark Knight Opuntia
Opuntia polyacantha var. rhodantha ‘Snowball’ Snowball Prickly Pear
Opuntia basilaris var. aurea Yellow beavertail cactus
Coryphantha vivipara Ball cactus
Echinocereus viridiflorus New Mexico Rainbow Hedgehog

Cactus Rescue Project website