Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus-Paper Spine Cactus

Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Paper Spine Cactus) on 7-19-16, #274-67.

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, Opuntia articulatus, Opuntia andicola, Tephrocactus andicolus, Opuntia diademata, Tephrocactus diadematus, Opuntia turpinii, Tephrocactus turpinii, Opuntia papyracantha, Opuntia glomerata, Tephrocactus glomeratus, Opuntia strobiliformis, Tephrocactus strobiliformis…

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. 

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. Ummm… Didn’t Otto attempt that name already?


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Paper Spine Cactus) as I brought it home on 2-9-16.

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.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus (Paper Spine Cactus) on 5-31-17, #339-43.


Family: Cactaceae
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 additional grit and pumice or perlite
Water: Average during the growing period, sparsely during the winter. 


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 4-8-18, #423-32.

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.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 5-18-18, #444-27.

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.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 5-25-18, #448-22.

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.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 7-29-18, #487-98.

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!


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 8-18-18, #498-7.

It does like its larger pot…


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 10-10-18, #519-66.

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.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus on 11-29-18, #534-34.

November 29 was a nice spring-like day, so I took the cactus to the back porch for a photo shoot. I was working on a post to show the difference between the cactus in my collection.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus spines on 11-29-18, #534-35.

The segments of this plant are loosely attached and fall off easily.


Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus close-up on 12-1-18, #535-25.

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.

There isn’t much online about this cactus, so as time goes by I will try and give as much information as I can from my experience.

As with any cactus, they need well-draining soil or a mix of potting soil amended with additional grit and pumice or perlite. Usually, a 2-1-1 mixture is sufficient. Some enthusiasts recommend using pumice instead of perlite, but I don’t have it locally available. They like regular watering during the growing period but barely in the winter months. They are very drought tolerant.

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.


4 comments on “Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus-Paper Spine Cactus

  1. zev_nz says:

    I just picked one of these up, it has lovely thick paper spines that are darker at the base and unfortunately the little tufts of glochids as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbe says:

    I want to thank you for writing about your paper spine. There isn’t much on the web about them. I bought mine at the airport in Phoenix about a month ago. Just 2 sections and a little one budding. It’s growing well. Seems happy with all the heat here. The spines have grown longer and bud is bigger. Most interesting little guy.

    Liked by 1 person

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