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Paper Spine Cactus
Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus
tef-roh-KAK-tus ar-tik-oo-LAH-tus (ar-tik-yoo-LAH-tus) pap-i-ra-kan-thus
Synonyms of Tephrocactus articulatus: Cereus articulatus Pfeiff., Cereus polymorphus C.F.Först., Cereus syringscanthus Pfeiff., Opuntia andicola Pfeiff., Opuntia andicola var. fulvispina Lem., Opuntia articulata (Pfeiff.) D.R.Hunt, Opuntia calva Lem., Opuntia diademata Lem., Opuntia diademata var. calva (Lem.) F.A.C.Weber ex K.Schum., Opuntia diademata var. inermis Speg., Opuntia diademata var. oligacantha Speg., Opuntia diademata var. polyacantha Speg., Opuntia glomerata var. calva (Lem.) G.D.Rowley, Opuntia glomerata var. inermis (Speg.) G.D.Rowley, Opuntia glomerata var. polycantha (Speg.) G.D.Rowley, Opuntia papyracantha Phil., Opuntia polymorpha Pfeiff., Opuntia strobiliformis A.Berger, Opuntia syringacantha (Pfeiff.) C.F.Först., Opuntia turpinii Lem., Opuntia turpinii var. polymorpha Salm-Dyck, Tephrocactus andicola (Pfeiff.) Lem., Tephrocactus articulatus var. calvus (Lem.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus var. diadematus (Lem.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus var. inermis (Speg.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus var. oligacanthus (Speg.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Phil.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus f. papyracanthus (Phil.) Guiggi & Verloove, Tephrocactus articulatus var. polyacanthus (Speg.) Backeb., Tephrocactus articulatus f. syringacanthus (Pfeiff.) F.Ritter, Tephrocactus articulatus var. syringacanthus (Pfeiff.) Backeb., Tephrocactus calvus (Lem.) Lem., Tephrocactus diadematus (Lem.) Lem., Tephrocactus diadematus var. calvus (Lem.) Backeb., Tephrocactus glomeratus var. andicola (Pfeiff.) Backeb., Tephrocactus glomeratus var. inermis Speg., Tephrocactus inermis (Speg.) Backeb., Tephrocactus strobiliformis (A.Berger) Backeb., Tephrocactus turpinii (Lem.) Lem.
Modern taxonomy seems to want to exclude subspecies, forms, and varieties as accepted names but I like to include them because the names distinguish plants from one another.
Tephrocactus articulatus (Pfeiff.) Backeb. is the accepted scientific name for this species. It was named and described as such by Carl Backeberg in Cactus (Paris) in 1953. It was first named Cereus articulatus by Louis (Ludwig) Karl George Pfeiffer and documented in Enumeratio Diagnostica Cactearum in 1837. Backeberg’s description was based on using Cereus articulatus Pfeiff. as the basionym.
Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Phil.) Backeb. was first described by Carl Backeberg in the same publication as the species. It was first named and described as Opuntia papyracantha by Rudolph Amandus Philippi in Gartenflora in 1872. Plants of the World Online lists Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus as a synonym of the species.
The genus, Tephrocactus Lem., was named and described by (Antoine) Charles Lemaire in Les Cactées Histoire in 1868. Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 9 accepted species of Tephrocactus but that number could change.
The 2013 version of The Plant List named 15 accepted species but listed Tephrocactus articulatus as a synonym of Opuntia articulata (Pfeiff.) D.R.Hunt (1987). Well, that species is also now a synonym of Tephrocactus articulatus.
When I was at Wal-Mart buying cactus on February 9, 2016, a piece fell off of a Paper Spine Cactus. I just had to rescue it and bring it home. That is better than it being thrown in the trash, right? As you can see in the first photo, it didn’t take long for this little nubbin to start growing.
Origin: Western Argentina
Zones: USDA Zones 8b-10b (15 to 35° F)
Size: 6-12” if you can keep the segments from falling off.
Light: Sun to part shade
*Soil: Well-draining. Potting soil amended with pumice or perlite and grit.
Water: Average during the growing period, sparsely during the winter.
*There are a lot of potting soil recipes online and many people develop their own with experience and what is readily available. Read the ingredients on the bag and always start with a base of a reliable brand name potting soil. I always use either Miracle Grow or Schultz Potting soil because I can buy it in large bags. They also offer cactus soil in smaller bags with similar ingredients. I used 2 parts potting soil with 1 part additional pumice and 1 part chicken grit. After reading that cactus and succulent enthusiasts were recommending pumice in place of perlite and grit, I decided to try. So, since late in 2018 I purchased a bag of pumice online from General Pumice. I have been using a combination of about 50% potting soil and 50% pumice with favorable results.
This cactus is very carefree and easy to grow. The species can be variable, some having spines and some do not. The one I have doesn’t seem to have spines, but apparently, the ones that do are very tiny and very hard to remove when they get in your fingers. These plants don’t get very tall because the segments are loosely attached and fall off easily then they take root and grow another plant. The feature of this variety is the papery spines rather than needles. They produce yellow or white flowers.
They like bright light and the stems will be thinner if not given enough. If the segments fall off, just stick the end in the soil and they will easily grow a new plant. In the wild, this allows them to grow large colonies.
I have had this cactus in this very small pot since I brought it home and decided it was time to put it in a larger pot on May 25.
I moved most of the potted plants to the front and back porch on July 4 after the Japanese Beetle invasion. I think all of the cactus are on the back porch in full sun except the Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus. It seems to burn very easily in too much sun although it likes bright light. GEEZ!
It does like its larger pot…
I had to move the potted plants inside for the winter on October 10 because the forecast was calling for an “F” in a few days and the nighttime temperatures were getting cooler. I usually measure the cactus and succulents when I bring them inside but I have never measured this plant.
November 29 was a nice spring-like day, so I took the cactus to the back porch for a photoshoot. I was working on a post to show the difference between the cactus in my collection.
The segments of this plant are loosely attached and fall off easily.
The areoles produce these strange ‘raffia-like” spines which is where the common name of this variety comes from. This plant has slightly raised tubercles but there is also a “tubercled type” of this variety whose tubercles are even more raised. This cactus areoles produces tiny glochids which differ from the wool in Mammillaria species. Glochids, which are also produced by Opuntia species (Prickly Pear) are a real pain to remove if you get them stuck in your fingers.
I moved the potted plants back outside the first part of May as temperatures warmed up enough. I keep this Tephrocactus on the front porch with most of the succulents while most of the other cactus are on the back porch.
LOOKING GREAT on June 22, 2019!
I had to move the potted plants inside for the winter on October 10 because an “F” was in the forecast. I always take photos of all the plants when I move them inside and measure the cactus and some of the succulents. No point in measuring this cactus as sometimes the segments fall off…
There isn’t much online about this cactus, but I will continue adding photos as time goes by and give as much information as I can from my experience. The Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus seems to be very easy to grow.
I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant.