Cholla Wood (Cacti Wood)

There might not be more extravagant driftwood than that of Cholla Wood.

This uniquely shaped wood looks like an ancient African artifact and can be extremely beneficial to a vivarium when used correctly.

If you are considering it for an aquarium or terrarium, this article is perfect for you.

This guide will provide a full understanding of cactus skeletons and illustrate the fundamental elements of the vivarium driftwood.

Quick Stats:
Scientific Name Cylindropuntia spp.
Botanical Name Cholla Wood
Other Common Names Cacti Wood, Cactus Skeleton
Origin (Habitat) North/South America, West Indies (Grassland, Desert)
Height Up to 36in
Color Light Brown, Reddish Brown, Gray
PH Impact Acidic
Plant Type (Sector) Tree (Stem, Trunk)

What Is Cholla Wood?

Cholla Wood is the inner skeleton of a specific type of cacti plant.

Scientifically known as Cylindropuntia, this genus group is made up of over twenty different types of species.

Cylindropuntia plants are a type of cactus commonly referred to as cholla plants.

When the plant dies, the green outer layer slowly breaks down, revealing the wood over time.

Cholla Wood Aquascape Tips

Cholla Wood Facts

Cholla Wood is considered a softwood due to the fact that it remains evergreen during its lifetime.

This leads to a fast-growing plant that will result in material that’s lighter than many other types of driftwood.

Like most succulents, this plant can tolerate extremely dry weather conditions and survive long periods of drought.

Besides being used as hardscape material for vivariums, other usages include decoration, furniture, and construction.


Cholla Wood is one of the most interesting-looking driftwood in our collection.

The cylinder-shaped logs are hollow and exhibit an array of holes along the surface.

A closer look at the texture will reveal a stringy exterior that makes this wood very porous.

The color of this softwood will range based on the specific species as well as the condition it is found in.

Older woods that have been exposed to weather longer will have a rustic-grayish color along the outer surfaces.

Other variations of the wood include light brown and reddish-brown.

Cholla Wood can vary in size as well.

Depending on the supplier, pieces will range from as small as your finger to as large as an arm or leg.

This is great for concept designs where multiple pieces can be combined to make larger centerpieces in vivariums.

One final note worth mentioning is the weight of this driftwood.

Cacti Wood is one of the lighter types of driftwood used within the hobby.

This makes it easy to use in large amounts…


Cholla Wood originates in desert terrains of North and South America as well as the West Indies.

The environment is typically low humidity and will experience long periods of drought followed by flash floods.

These harsh conditions have influenced Cholla plants to evolve in a way that allows them to retain water more easily.

Other common biotypes these cacti are native to include both grasslands as well as lower mountain passages.

Environmental Influence

Cholla Wood can have a moderate influence on the surrounding areas it’s placed within.

This wood will leech tannin into the water gradually.

This will buffer water parameters making it softer and lowering the PH at the same time.

This is beneficial for freshwater tanks that thrive in parameters below 7 PH.

Water discoloration will often take place, giving off a yellowish tint to the water.

To prevent this from happening, many hobbyists will presoak the wood prior to using it and additional water changes may still be required afterward.

Vivarium Type

Cholla wood is great for both aquariums as well as terrariums.

This versatile wood sinks easily after a day or two and will provide a healthy source of food to invertebrates it breaks down underwater.

Use this wood risk-free in any type of vivarium that doesn’t require water hardness to be high.

Here is a recommended list of vivariums Cholla Cacti Wood are commonly used in:

  • Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain-based enclosure.
  • Ripariums – Mostly aquatic-based enclosures with some terrain features present.
  • Terrariums – Fully terrain-based enclosures with little to no aquatic features.
  • Aquariums – Fully aquatic-based enclosure with no terrain features.

Vivarium Usage

Cholla Wood can be used in a number of ways within a vivarium.

This type of driftwood is commonly used as both a hardscape as well as a substrate for many vivarium plants that are epiphytes like air plants or moss.

They last longer above water and are in most cases sandblasted to remove excess dirt and debris.

In aquariums or ripariums, this wood can be used for up to two years before breaking down beyond use.

As the wood begins to decay, a biofilm is formed along the surface.

Shrimp along with many other types of aquatic animals will feed off of the film digesting healthy nutrients.

Keep in mind, this type of driftwood can take a day or two to lose its buoyancy and remain submerged on its own.

In terrariums and the land portions of a paludarium, Cholla Wood can be used right away and will continue to age giving off a settled look.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will use this wood to stand or climb to higher positions within the enclosure.

Cacti Wood being placed above water will not have to be pre-soaked but should still be securely placed.


The greatest benefit of using Cholla Driftwood compared to other vivarium driftwood is the effects it has on lowering water conditions.

This is a great wood to use in softwater biotypes as well as enclosures that have steady periods of drying out.

The unique appearance of this wood is exceptional and will provide a place for inhabitants to hide, breed, and eat.

This type of driftwood is non-toxic, making it safe for all kinds of inhabitants.

Even though this wood is one of the lighter types of vivarium woods used in the hobby, it doesn’t require a huge amount of work to sink.

The porous surface and hollow interior make it easy to saturate with water and will quickly sink on its own.


With the high porosity of Cholla Wood, it can harbor debris and pest relatively easily. When acquiring this driftwood for the first time, be sure to give it a thorough cleaning before use. This will assure all unwanted matter doesn’t infiltrate sensitive enclosures.

Due to the low water parameter influence, this wood would not be ideal for hard water enclosures that require the PH to be above 7.

The wood does float when it’s dry so that may require periods of pre-soaking or anchoring.

One final disadvantage of Cacti wood is its rate of decay.

This wood is not considered rot-resistant.

It will last much longer than most driftwood due to it being a hardwood but should be monitored after extended periods of use.

Buy Cholla Wood

When looking at Cholla Wood for sale, expect a few key indicators you are buying the best quality wood.

These woods should always be free of pests.

The source of driftwood should come from a contributor who Preferably specializes in the pet industry.

Avoid taking these from hardware stores or outdoors unless you can assure the wood hasn’t been treated with toxic chemicals or pesticides.

Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info:

Cholla Wood Preparation

When acquiring Cholla driftwood for the first time, it may need to be properly conditioned before going into a vivarium.

All pieces should be inspected to make certain no pest or rot has taken residence within the wood.

Once checked, it can be cleaned and placed securely within the desired enclosure.

Sterilizing Cholla Wood

Above all, It is always a good idea to sterilize driftwood when you first receive it.

A light brushing will knock excess dirt and sand off.

If additional cleaning is required, pressure washing Cholla wood would be the next step in cleaning it.

If the pieces of wood are small enough to fit in a pot, boiling the wood is a definite way to kill bacteria as well as saturate the wood from sap and tannins that will lead to water coloration.

Sinking Cholla Wood

Cholla Wood is one of the easiest vivarium woods to sink due to its natural porosity.

For instance, boiling the wood will speed up the saturation process allowing it to sink almost right after preparation. In other words,

If you decide to soak the wood in a bucket, allow it to sit for a couple of days before removing it.

Even if the wood dries out, it still should not have a problem sinking after a couple of hours.

If the pieces still float even after trying all the steps above, simply weigh them down with stones or bury them firmly within dense substrates.

Driftwood Similar To Cholla Wood

Adding diversity to an enclosure is key to an aesthetically pleasing enclosure.

Try mixing up the look of your vivarium with different woods that can easily co-exist in the same types of environment.

Furthermore, if for some reason you find this wood hard to acquire or would like to consider something similar to it…

Here are some other kinds of driftwood you might find may do well with or in the place of Cholla Wood:

Malaysian Driftwood "Blackwood" - The Hardscape Guide
California Driftwood "Ghostwood" - The Hardscape Guide
Bamboo Wood (Stakes, Poles & Hides) - The Hardscape Guide


In conclusion, Cholla Wood is exceptional for all types of vivariums when used correctly.

It offers an enclosure with a very diverse look and comes in a variety of patterns and sizes.

I love the natural look it offers desert-style terrariums and doesn’t need much preparation when utilized in these dry enclosures.

When opting to use it as an aquascape, don’t plan on keeping it forever.

Once the Cacti Skeleton has run its course and broken down completely…

Replace it with a brand-new piece!

Frequently Asked Questions

Cholla Wood is an ideal driftwood for aquariums, terrariums, and as decorations for a variety of habitats. It provides beneficial cover and hiding spaces for aquatic species and visual appeal to the aquarium.

Cholla Wood is denser and sinks faster than many other types of driftwood, helping to create a more natural atmosphere that is beneficial to both fish and plant life. It also absorbs tannins and other substances, reducing the water‘s pH and helping to create a healthier environment in the aquarium.

The Cholla cactus (also known as Cylindropuntia fulgida or the chainfruit cholla) is a species of cactus native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, which makes cholla wood.

Cholla wood provides shrimp with a desirable habitat that helps to encourage increased digestion and healthy molting. The wood also contains tannins that help to reduce pH levels in aquariums and to protect against unwanted bacterial and fungal growth. Additionally, the wood can help to boost the natural behavior of the shrimp, such as sifting and foraging.

Cholla wood has holes due to the spines, or thorny arms, on the branches of the cholla cactus. These spines can puncture into woody material, such as wood and bark, and stay intact until they dry up and fall off. This leaves behind small, visible holes in the wood.

Yes, cholla wood can change the pH of aquarium water. When added to an aquarium, cholla wood acts as a natural pH regulator. It typically lowers the water‘s pH, but can also slightly raise it depending on the type of cholla wood and other factors.

Cholla wood is an incredibly buoyant material and will typically resist sinking in water. To get it to sink, it often needs to be weighted down or boiled in a solution of salt water. Boiling the wood in a solution of 1 part Epsom salt to 8 parts water for 1520 minutes can help to make it heavier and sink in your aquarium.

Cholla wood generally lasts for a few years when kept in an aquarium, depending on the type of fish and the care that is provided. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the tank and its substrates will help prolong the life of the cholla wood.

Cholla wood, a type of driftwood, can take anywhere from several days to several weeks to sink in an aquarium.

Yes, cholla wood can be a great source of enrichment for your fish tank. The wood provides natural hiding places, encourages natural behaviors, and offers a daily environment that is full of visual stimulation. It also helps to increase surface area for beneficial bacteria colonies and helps to give fish a more entertaining aquarium experience.

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