Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Cactus You Can Write On: Opuntia papyracantha

Opuntia papyracantha, Tephrocactus articulatus

I've never found a cactus with so many names before. You can see the two main ones up there in the caption. But there are many others! Everyone seems to agree it's an Opuntia of some sort, and it's really cool. But that's about it. If you Google either name, you'll find a list of names that goes on and on. If a botanist would like to comment and clarify, I would be very pleased....

At any rate, the colloquially titled Paper Spine Cactus is a real gem. It's the only Opuntia I'll allow in my garden. That's because I really hate glochids, those tiny micro-spines that Opuntias grow in such abundance. Even careful gardeners get them everywhere, and we all fear to get them in our eyes! They're like little nanotubes of pain.

But this Opuntia has such wonderful papery (and harmless) spines, it's hard to resist. Mine is a just a baby, but they can grow up to a foot high. They can be brittle in the wind, but since they are grown from cuttings, you can simply repot any bit that breaks off. The glochids are restricted to small bundles that are easily avoided. It's not the most common cactus at the nursery, but well worth finding.


  1. Although I don't currently have any, I like the Tephrocactus. The most talked about plant in our C&S society plant show last year was Tephrocactus geometricus, which looks like green golf balls glued together. Speaking of glochids, which I have had in just about every part of my body, I have an Opuntia ellisiana (sometimes listed as Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana')that has no spines, and NO glochids. You can rub the pads between your two hands without fear; although I still wince when I do it.

  2. That T. geometricus sounds intriguing. And was O. ellisiana specifically cultivated to have no glochids? I think this species sounds suspiciously like botanists and gardeners ganging up on Opuntia and saying, "That will be enough of that!" and cleverly removing the glochid genes. Glochids are surely an efficient and ruthless defense system....