No, not that Christmas cactus. While most people think of various species of Schlumbergera as the traditional Christmas cactus, the plant variously known as Tasajillo, Christmas Cactus, Pencil Cactus, and Christmas Cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) spreads its color across the Texas landscape well into the winter months.
Growing at altitudes between 500 and 5000 feet, west of the Brazos River in South and West Texas grasslands, chaparral, and oak-juniper communities, the plant often escapes notice until other desert shrubs lose their foliage and its bright red fruits become apparent.
Leptocaulis means slender-stemmed, and those stems often twist together to form inpenetrable thickets. The thickets provide nesting sites for cactus wrens, while white-tail deer, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, and other birds and small mammals feed on the fruits.
Tasajillo has seemed especially abundant this year: a boon to the creatures depending on it for food and shelter, and a colorful addition to our season of celebration.