Plant and Garden

Paper Spine Cactus (Opuntia papyracantha) Care and Information

The Paper Spine Cactus was first described in 1868 by Charles Lamarie. Native to western Argentina, the Paper Spine Cactus (Tephrocactus articulatus var. papyracanthus) is found growing naturally on the lower slopes of the Andes mountain range.

Also known as Spruce Cactus, each new segment emerges from the cactus aureoles, which protect the new growth with a circle of defensive glochids and one large papery spine.

This plant grows up to 12 inches tall. The pine cone-shaped segments loosely attached to each other and fall easily.

The new segments seem to be reaching out to the warm sun as they poke through the old segments. Soon, they will reach maturity, and take on the typical mature pine-cone shape.

If you’re intrigued by the unique look, shape, and growth habit of the Paper Spine Cactus, you can grow your own no matter where you live. Indoors or outdoors. Just remember LESS LIGHT = LESS WATER! Regardless, the Paper Spine Cactus will bloom and thrive in 10-to-12 hours of direct sun. This cactus does well in a container and planted in the ground.


The stems or joints of the Paper Spine Cactus can break off easily. Once they fall the ground, the stem can quickly take root and start an entirely new plant.

Otherwise, cut a paddle off the cactus at the joint, using a clean knife. Select a healthy paddle on an actively growing stem. The new paddles grew in spring typically root quickly.

Then lay the paddle on a paper towel in a location away from direct sunlight. Allow the cut to cure and dry out for one to two days before planting.

Fill a pot, which contains at least one drainage hole, with a cactus soil mix. Alternatively, make your own mix by combining one part peat moss with one part coarse sand. Water the mix until it is slightly moist but not wet or soggy.

Insert the cut end of the paddle into the prepared potting mixture. Insert up to a third of its length, or enough so that it stands up on its own.

Place the pot in a warm room where it receives bright but indirect sunlight. Water sparingly ensuring that the soil doesn’t dry completely.

Move the cactus to a full sun location once it roots, which usually takes between three and six weeks. A rooted paddle shows new growth and won’t pull from the soil when you tug on it gently.

Click to read more about When to repot a cactus.

Does The Paper Spines Hurt?

While harmless, the long (2 inches, plus-or-minus) white spines are in the shape of a dagger and have a barbed point that resembles a fish hook. Although the spine is paper-thin and harmless, watch out for the glochids. Those tiny spines are common on opuntia cacti.

The glochids are the secret weapon of the Paper Spine Cactus. Once a predator bites off a piece of the stem and gets the glochids lodged in its mouth, throat, and esophagus, it will never again crave a Paper Spine Cactus.

Does The Paper Cactus Flower?

New segments of the paper spine cactus, and also new flowers emerge from the areoles. At first, the flower segments look similar to the new cactus segment or arm growth. As the flower segment grows, the differences become more apparent.

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The Paper Spine Cactus produces remarkably beautiful white flowers. The flowers only last 24 hours.

Within a few weeks, the flower segment will develop petals that surround and protect its fruit. Then, as dusk approaches, the flower petals will open. The petals are a milky, pure white color, with hues of yellow and reddish-brown on some of the petal edges. Other petals are completely white.

The petals protect the bright yellow stigma, while the anthers and the filaments are parts of the stamen. The stamen is the male part of the paper spine cactus flower, and its anthers produce pollen.

During pollination, when moths, bats, bees, or other insects gather pollen, some pollen particles will collect on the stigma. The male reproductive cells from the pollen migrate down the stigma’s tube into the flower’s ovary. There inside the ovary, seeds become fertilized and they are surrounded by the fruit as it develops.

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