Some years ago, giving a 09:00hrs winter inspection of my small collection of plants, I was horrified to see that my 120cm tall Opuntia pachypus was leaning at an approx 45 degree angle. Being Christmas morning I double checked that I was at the correct angle to view - sure enough pachypus was leaning at this acute angle. I was most upset that this magnificent plant which was growing so well and which had been given to me years earlier by a very dear friend, when it was about 80 cms tall, was on the verge of collapse. On close inspection I saw that the base was soft and mushy - nothing else for it but to operate and sever the trunk above the soft mush, to look for firm body flesh, hopefully to dry and then re-root. Back in the house I reflected on what to do. So mind made up, I returned back into the greenhouse armed with strong glove and carving knife! I laughed out loud as I realised that only a few hours later, when my wife arrived home from work, I would be carving the festive turkey with the same knife!

I made the first cut about 10cms above the rot and found that the centre of the plant was hollow, so I cut again about 10cms higher and found the same, and then the same again and again and again until I reached almost the top. The inside was like a bamboo shoot, hollow and in sections (See Fig 15). So there it was, hollow and in sections from the base all the way to the top. So what was it that caused this? Has anybody in the TSG experienced this phenomenon perhaps in the fall of their O. pachypus

Fig. 15. Austrocylindropuntia pachypus. Photograph by John Cox. Note the “chambers” in the hollow core. Ed


John Cox. Bradford.

G.D. Rowley

Ivor Crook’s account of the possible domestication of this iconic prickly pear complements the story concerning its cytology. A little juggling with mathematics is all that is needed to piece together the various ideas thrown up to resolve its ancestry.

Reported chromosome counts for Opuntia ficus-indica (or under its synonymic name O. Opuntia) are mostly 2n = 8x = 88 for plants from Mexico, California and Arizona, 2n = 4x = 44 from Arizona and Texas and one count of 2n = 2x = 22 from Spain (see Pinkava & McLeod 1971). There are also hybrids, as for example O. ficus-indica (8x) x O. phaeacantha (6x) giving the expected count of 2n = 77 (heptaploid).

The octoploid O. ficus-indica is probably of hybrid origin, involving as wild ancestors perhaps O. streptacantha, reported as a diploid, 2x, and octoploid, 8x, with O. tomentosa which can be tetraploid, 4x, or octoploid, 8x. Thus we are reminded here of a situation resembling that of the bread wheats (Simmonds 1976) where a build-up of genomes by polyploidy created today’s hexaploids from three diploid ancestors. In cytological terms the occurrence of trivalents and tetravalents in the octoploid led Carpio in 1952 to declare Opuntia ficus-indica as an allopolyploid derived from two species with 44 chromosomes.

Whatever species, living or extinct, combined forces in the past, further changes took place as man selected and spread the plants throughout the tropics. So our name Opuntia ficus-indica in effect covers a species complex (aggregate species) composed of cytotypes (chromosome races) at different polyploid levels. Intercrossing that resulted in odd polyploid levels (3x, 5x, 7x) would probably have been eliminated through sterility or at least a poorer set of fruits than in even polyploids. For the present it is best to stick to cultivar names for clones most favoured, rather than attempt a botanical breakdown into species, subspecies, varieties and so on. The future lies in DNA sequencing, and a fine start has been made in South Africa in a study of 38 clones of O. ficus-indica in cultivation (Mashope et al. 2011). This relates genetic diversity to recognisable differences in habit, and the tabulated results will assuredly be of use to breeders of future improved cultivars.

Carpio, M. D. A. (1952) in Gen. Iber. 4 : 47- 57.
Crook, I. (2012) in Tephrocactus 18(3) : 41- 44.
Mashope, B. K. et al. (2011) in Bradleya 29;103 -114.
Pinkava, D. J. & Mcleod, M. G. (1971) in Brittonia 23 ; 171 – 176.
Simmonds, N. W. (1976) Evolution of Crop Plants. Longman.

July 2014 was designated ‘Pterocactus July’ by the TSG.  This article gives a brief overview of the genus and includes illustrations that were submitted.

 The origins of the genus Pterocactus are still somewhat confused. The plant Opuntia tuberosa was first described by Ludwig Pfeiffer in 1837 from material collected near Mendoza in Argentina. Following this, in 1897, the genus Pterocactus and the species Pterocactus kuntzii were described in the same publication by Karl Schumann in 1897 citing material collected in the same area. Extensive research by James Iliff and Nigel Taylor suggest it is highly likely the material both Pfeiffer and Schumann described was the same.  The word Pterocactus is derived in part from the Greek word pteron meaning wing. This refers to the distinctive shaped seed with its broad, papery wing. Pterocactus is one of the few genera which, on the whole, has avoided the wholesale loss of names  to synonymy in recent times. Only skottsbergii, which has been sunk into synonymy with  hickenii and kuntzei and decipiens which have been sunk into synonymy with tuberosus are the only names that are no longer considered good species in their own right.

 Today, nine species are recognised. They all grow in Argentina, throughout Patagonia and into the northwest of the country to Salta. They are characterised not only by their odd shaped winged seed but also by their thin, usually short, semi-erect stems. When they flower there is only a single flower at the very tip of the each flowering stem. In habitat, the plants develop a large underground tuber and the stems are usually deciduous, being shed during the cold winter months.

Photographs by Pete Arthurs, Carolina González, Cyrill Hunkeler, Jiri Kolarik, Norbert Sarnes and Håkan Sönnermo.  Text by Ivor Crook.

An open seedpod on Pterocactus tuberosus HUN352 (photo Cyrill Hunkeler)





Paul Hoxey

The genus Cumulopuntia was erected by Ritter (1980:399) to include a small number of dwarf South American Opuntioids.  The key characteristic which distinguishes this genus from the closely related Maihueniopsis are the fruits which contain seeds within a dry cavity.  In the New Cactus Lexicon only four species (Cumulopuntia boliviana, chichensis, rossiana and sphaerica) are accepted with a further 24 names referred to these four. No less than 11 are considered synonyms of C. sphaerica.

A trawl through Iliff (2002) reveals a further seven names which are associated with C. sphaerica giving us a potential 18 synonyms.  As Iliff mentions (2002:143) this species group is not well known.  As far as I know no attempt has been made to critically study the group to determine if any of the names should be retained at some sort of botanical rank.   I have seen a number of populations in habitat, many of which correspond to validly published names, and I think it is useful to show the variation in the plants which are encountered under the broad concept of C. sphaerica in the NCL.

Cumulopuntia sphaerica in the broadest sense is a very wide ranging species found on the western side of the Andes in southern Peru and northern Chile.  The northernmost population (C. kuehnrichiana) is from the Rímac valley, near to Lima in the centre of Peru and the southern extreme is reached in the province of Coquimbo, Chile, a distance of over 2000km.  I have observed populations at over 70 localities at altitudes from sea level to 3830m.  The large distribution and altitude range is remarkable for a single species within the Cactaceae. The distribution contrasts strongly with C. boliviana which is a plant of the high Andes to the east and which is found at high elevations in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.  The ranges just about overlap in the highlands of southern Peru and I know of one locality near Pampa de Arrieros, on the road from Arequipa to Puno where they grow together.

Not surprisingly for a plant with a wide distribution and so many synonyms there is a large amount of variation between populations.  However I have found variation within populations to be low and the plants generally uniform in characteristics at any given locality.  Perhaps this is due to a significant amount of vegetative propagation from joints which are often weakly attached to each other and readily root to form new plants when detached.

The list below gives the names which are referred to C. sphaerica in Hunt (2006) and Iliff (2002).  Not all have been transferred into Cumulopuntia and I give the earliest published name if that is the case. I also include C. galerasensis as I believe this too has become entangled within this web of names and should be covered in this discussion.

Cumulopuntia alboareolata (Ritter) Ritter
Tephrocactus bicolor (Rauh & Backeberg) Rauh
Opuntia campestris Britton & Rose
Opuntia corotilla K.Schumann ex Vaupel
Cumulopuntia crassicylindrica (Rauh & Backeberg) Ritter
Opuntia dimoropha Foerster
Cumulopuntia galerasensis Ritter
Opuntia ignota Britton & Rose
Cumulopuntia kuehnrichiana (Werdermann & Backeberg) Ritter
Opuntia leucophaea Philippi
Tephrocactus mirus Backeberg
Tephrocactus muellerianus Backeberg
Cumulopuntia multiareolata (Ritter) Ritter
Tephrocactus pseudorauppianus Backeberg
Cumulopuntia rauppiana (Schumann) Ritter
Cumulopuntia tubercularis Ritter
Cumulopuntia tumida Ritter
Cumulopuntia unguispina (Backeberg) Ritter
Cumulopuntia zehnderi (Rauh & Backeberg) Ritter

I will not be discussing further the names Opuntia dimorpha Foerster, Tephrocactus muellerianus Backeberg, Tephrocactus pseudorauppianus Backeberg and Cumulopuntia rauppiana (Schumann) Ritter because none have a well defined type locality or type.  All are accepted to belong to the C. sphaerica group and are best considered synonyms of C. sphaerica.

I highly recommend Iliff's “The Andean Opuntias” published in 2002 as part of the “Studies in the Opuntioideae” as an excellent reference to South American Opuntioids.  I have used it extensively whilst preparing this article, particularly for information on older names in publications which are not readily accessible today.

Cumulopuntia sphaerica (Foerster) Anderson (type form)

Opuntia sphaerica was described in 1861 by Foerster with a location given as the department of Arequipa, Peru.   As no type specimen was preserved Iliff defined the type using the illustration Fig. 113 in Britton and Rose (1919:96), reproduced here (Fig.1), of a plant collected above the town of Arequipa, in the department of the same name.  This is clearly a large growing form with very spiny segments with the spines on all the areoles. The illustration also shows new growth of smaller, elongated and much more weakly spined segments.  I have observed this growth pattern, which is typical for C. sphaerica, in several populations where plants have very green weakly spined segments which are of very recent growth. The segments then appear to undergo a secondary growth phase to reach maturity with stronger spine growth and the toughing of the epidermis with the development of a waxy coating, turning the plant a greyish colour.  Fig. 2 shows clearly the mature and immature growths from a plant in cultivation of ISI 1525, collected 23km west of Arequipa at 2800m. This plant conforms closely to the type.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. Cumulopuntia sphaerica neotype. Reproduced from Britton & Rose P. 96. Fig. 113.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Cumulopuntia sphaerica ISI 1525. Good example of type form. Arequipa, Peru.

I found similar looking plants to the type at Minas Cerro Verde (PH709.04) just outside Arequipa on very dry hills at 2400m, growing as low loose clumps.  Figs. 3 and 4 show a relatively large clone with segments roughly spherical to 8cm in diameter (and suffering from sooty mould). The body is slightly glaucus with a waxy coating. The spines emerge from large areoles and completely cover the segment; they are recurved and somewhat twisted or contorted to give the plant an overall untidy and distinctive appearance in comparison to other C. sphaerica forms. Also growing at this locality we found a smaller growing form, with segments no more than 3cm in diameter, with short straight spines (Fig. 18, near end of article).  I will discuss this plant in more detail in the comments for the small jointed high altitude form of C. sphaerica.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3. Cumulopuntia sphaerica PH709.04. Near Minas Cerro Verde, Arequipa, Peru. 2400m.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4. Cumulopuntia sphaerica PH709.04. Near Minas Cerro Verde, Arequipa, Peru. 2400m.

I have only encountered the type form growing at two other localities; between Moquegua and Omate at 2430m (PH618.04) and at Minas de Toquepala near Moquegua at 2620m (PH615.02) although in both cases with slightly smaller segments. All three localities have a similar altitude and arid environments, being situated on the edge and to the east of the coastal desert belt.  They do not receive any coastal mist and instead rely on very limited rainfall.

Cumulopuntia tumida Ritter

Ritter (1981:1254) erected this name for plants found on the coast near Chala Vieja, in the north part of the department of Arequipa.  Ritter’s original description calls for a loose sprawling plant made up of short-ellipsoid segments 4-8(-10) cm tall and 4-6cm across.  Initially they are green turning to a more grey green with age.  Areoles are 3-5mm in diameter, extending to the base of the segment and orange-brownish in colour. Spines are white to 3cm long, with a brown tip and they taper down from a thick base to a point. Spines are usually absent on the areoles on the lower half of the segment.

I was unaware of anyone other than Ritter finding this plant in habitat and it was with very good fortune we found plants on the coast near the base of the Lomas de Atiquipa, just north of Chala Vieja which correspond very well with the description, see Figs. 5 and 6, my PH584.08.  We only encountered a small number of plants but all were very consistent in their characteristics.  In general characteristics including segment size, this plant most closely resemble the type form of C. sphaerica rather than the smaller growing C. unguispina found to the south along the coast.   The short white spination is slightly recurved but is otherwise very distinct from the type C. sphaerica.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5. Cumulopuntia tumida PH 584.08. The coast north of Atiquipa, Arequipa, Peru.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6. Cumulopuntia tumida PH 584.08. The coast north of Atiquipa, Arequipa, Peru.

This habitat is particularly interesting as the Lomas de Atiquipa is the most favourable locality for plants along the coast of southern Peru because of the amount of moisture available. The extensive lomas vegetation survives on sea mists, which for unknown reasons are at  their strongest along this small section of coast.  The Lomas de Atiquipa is very isolated from other lomas localities as the surrounding area is much more arid.  It is well known as an area with many endemic species of plants (including Eulychnia ritteri and Haageocereus chalaensis within the Cactaceae) and animals because of the isolation.

Cumulopuntia crassicylindricus (Rauh & Backeberg) Ritter

This very distinctive plant is found in a small population in a very arid environment in the base of the Río Majes valley at approximately 1000m in altitude some 80km inland where it shares the habitat with Islaya grandis and Haageocereus pluriflorus. It was originally named as a Tephrocactus by Rauh and Backeberg in Rauh (1957) and was moved into Cumulopuntia by Ritter in 1981.  The plants grow as loose clumps of segments to 10cm or more in length (Fig. 7). They are more elongated than either the type form of C. sphaerica or C. tumida.  The spines are mainly found on the upper half of the segments, a character shared with C. tumida but not C. sphaerica (type form). There is usually one very robust central spine and then 4 or 5 further shorter but equally strong radials. They are always straight. Spine colour varies from grey through to black.  The black colour may be due to growth of sooty moulds and appears to affect the areole wool too (Fig. 8).  When I visited the locality in March 2008, the plants were in full flower with fresh growth. The area was incredibly arid so I imagine the plants had taken advantage of a rare rain event some weeks or months previously to grow new segments.  The new segments are clearly visible in Fig. 7, being bright green, weakly spined and very distinct from the mature growth. Small residual leaves are present. The strong spination (Fig. 7) and grey glaucous body was a consistent feature on the mature growth of all the plants I saw.  Royston Hughes has shown me material purporting to be this plant in cultivation and it is relatively weakly spined with white spines. It is likely in a UK greenhouse we can't give it sufficiently strong sunlight to develop the same degree of spination as is seen in habitat.

Fig. 7

Fig. 7. Cumulopuntia crassicylindrica PH 762.03. Hacienda Ongoro, Rio  Majes, Arequipa, Peru. 930m.

Fig. 8

Fig. 8. Cumulopuntia crassicylindrica PH 762.03. Hacienda Ongoro, Rio  Majes, Arequipa, Peru. 930m.

Cumulopuntia kuehnrichiana (Werdermann & Backeberg) Ritter

This is the most northern form of C. sphaerica which grows in the Rímac valley inland from Lima.  It was described as a Tephrocactus by Werdermann & Backeberg in 1931 and moved into Cumulopuntia by Ritter in 1981. The type locality is the town of Chosica and I have seen plants close by, on slopes where the urban spread from Lima has yet to reach. It grows into large sprawling clumps in a similar way to C. tumida and C. crassicylindricus. The segments are slightly elongated to 8cm or so in length. The spination is generally on the upper half of the segment only and relatively fine. The plant has the appearance of a weakly spined C. sphaerica (type form).  Figs. 9 and 10 show a typical plant.

Fig. 9

Fig. 9. Cumulopuntia kuehnrichiana PH 780.01. Rio Rimac, Lima, Peru.

Fig. 10

Fig. 10. Cumulopuntia kuehnrichiana PH 780.01. Rio Rimac, Lima, Peru.

The taxa C. sphaerica (type form), C. tumida, C. crassicylindrica & C. kuehnrichiana make up a group of very similar plants, characterised by large segments which vary a little in the amount of elongation. There are much larger differences in the spination which can be used to distinguish between the populations more clearly.

Cumulopuntia unguispina (Backeberg) Ritter

This species was described by Backeberg in 1937.  The type locality is given as the desert of Joya, south west of Arequipa.  This desert belt is formed because it is too far inland for coastal mists to penetrate but also too far west for rains from the east. It is unlikely the plant grows in the total desert because of the aridity.  I have found these plants in several coastal localities in southern Peru from Camaná to Tacna, always in very arid conditions in the fog zone and never in large numbers. Ritter also reports plants from similar habitats west of the desert belt, Ritter (1981:1251).

The original description calls for segments up to 4.8cm in diameter, although Ritter (1981:1251) states a maximum of 2.5cm and all the plants I have found never exceeded this segment size. The areoles are very large in comparison to the size of the segments and perhaps cover in excess of 50% of the segment surface.  When young the segments have significant amounts of white areole wool.  The straight, needle-like, spines radiate out of the areole and are up to 25mm in length and brown when young, turning grey with age. The original description calls for up to 18 spines but this seems to be unusual rather than the norm, and a maximum of 8 to 10 was more typical. Spines are often limited to areoles in the top half of the segment. New growth is bright green and often has small residual leaves present beneath the areole. Mature growth develops a glaucus coating to give plants a grey/green appearance.  Figs. 11 and 12 illustrate a plant PH769.04 at Camaná.

Fig. 11

Fig. 11. Cumulopuntia unguispina PH769.04. Camana, Arequipa, Peru.1000m.

Fig. 12

Fig. 12. Cumulopuntia unguispina PH769.04. Camana, Arequipa, Peru.1000m.

I consider the plants commonly found in northern Chile coastal localities to belong here. They have similarly sized small joints and large areoles which is remarkably consistent over the whole range. In the far north of Chile there is a gap in the distribution with the Peruvian populations but this is due to increased aridity of the region. They still exist at a few favourable localities south of Iquique but in the past the distribution must have been continuous from Coquimbo, Chile to Camaná, Peru.  

Figs. 13 and 14 show a plant at El Cobre, to the south of Antofagasta, Chile, which conforms very closely with C. unguispina from southern Peru.  Note the residual leaves on recent growth. In more favourable localities plants can make larger clusters but retain the small segment size.

Fig. 13

Fig. 13. Cumulopuntia unguispina PH655.03. El Cobre, Antofagasta, Chile. 830m.

Fig. 14

Fig. 14. Cumulopuntia unguispina PH655.03. El Cobre, Antofagasta, Chile. 830m.

This dwarf headed form of C. sphaerica is the most often seen in cultivation, which I suspect originate from Chilean rather then Peruvian localities. Segments are easily detached and rooted. I find it impossible to grow a plant to any size as I find they disintegrate when I attempt to re-pot them. However flowering is possible on plants once they achieve chains of 4 or 5 heads high.

Cumulopuntia sphaerica (Foerster) Anderson (high altitude form)

On the road which climbs out of the Río Majes valley towards Cotahuasi C. crassicylindrica can be found up to approximately 1600m in altitude. There is then a gap where no C. sphaerica forms can be found until the altiplano is reached. Here at 3830m, growing with Oreocereus leucotrichus I encountered C. sphaerica (Figs. 15 and 16).  I found further high altitude populations above Arequipa at 2830m and 3200m, Moquegua at 3700m and close to the Chilean border at 3470m.  Royston Hughes has also encountered similar plants in the Colca Canyon region at similar altitudes. In all cases the plants have small segments, large areoles and short, straight, spination consistent with C. unguispina. Fig.17 shows red flower buds but these open to reveal yellow flowers typical of the C. sphaerica group. The habitats of this form are very different to C. unguispina, as they receive regular annual rainfall but are colder due to the higher altitude. The desert belt in southern Peru which extends into northern Chile isolates the coastal habitats from the high altitude ones and forms a natural barrier between the two populations.

Fig. 15

Fig. 15. Cumulopuntia sphaerica (high altitude form) PH596.02. Road to Cotahuasi, above Chuquibamba, Arequipa, Peru. 3830m.

Fig. 16

Fig. 16. Cumulopuntia sphaerica (high altitude form) PH596.02. Road to Cotahuasi, above Chuquibamba, Arequipa, Peru. 3830m. 

Fig. 17

Fig. 17. Cumulopuntia sphaerica (high altitude form) PH596.02. Flower buds.

Surprisingly a name has not been erected for this high altitude form in Peru but in Chile we have two possibilities:

Opuntia leucophaea Philippi was described in 1891 with a type from Usmagana in Tarapacá, the northernmost province of Chile. Philippi describes a plant with globular segments to 2.5cm in diameter with prostrate branches and a saffron yellow flower with a short ovary. As Iliff points out (2002:207) this plant must be a C. sphaerica form.

Cumulopuntia tubercularis Ritter was described in 1980 from Chusmiza also in the province of Tarapacá.  Ritter also gives an altitude of 3000-3400m. He associates this plant with C. berteri (his name for C. sphaerica from coastal Chile).

Both localities are close together at approximately Lat S19.75°, Long W69.23° inland from Iquique and 200km south of the Peruvian border. Unfortunately no illustrations exist for either plant and it would be beneficial to return to the localities to record what grows there. From the information we have, it appears Cumulopuntia tubercularis is a re-description of Opuntia leucophaea and both belong to the high altitude form of C. sphaerica and extend the range significantly southwards.

As mentioned earlier it was interesting to find a small growing C. sphaerica with 3cm high segments (Fig. 18) together with the large typical form just outside Arequipa.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore fully to see if there were any intermediates or if the two forms grow side by side without intermingling. I am placing this plant with the high altitude form rather than with C. unguispina as the location is east and inland of the desert belt.

Fig. 18

Fig. 18. Cumulopuntia sphaerica (high altitude form) PH709.05. Near Minas Cerro Verde, Arequipa, Peru.


Britton and Rose (1919) The Cactaceae Volume 1
Hunt, D (2006), The New Cactus Lexicon
Iliff, J (2002) The Andean Opuntias, Studies in the Opuntioideae, Succulent Plant Research Volume 6
Rauh, W (1957) Beitrag zur Kenntnis der peruanischen kateenvegetation
Ritter, F (1980)  Kakteen in Sudamerika Band 2
Ritter, F (1981)  Kakteen in Sudamerika Band 4

To be continued (see part 2).

This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), September 2008, Vol. 14, No. 3, pages 35-49. © TSG and Paul Hoxey

Note added by Tony Roberts: Below is a compilation of several articles which were published in the 'TSG Journal' between September 2009 and December 2010 about just one species which is now called Maihueniopsis clavarioides (see the article entitled 'Puna No More!' for more information on changes of name). For a more historical look at this species see the article on Opuntia clavarioides which originally appeared in the National Cactus and Succulent Journal in 1955. The names as published in the original articles are maintained below.


Elton Roberts

April 4th and 5th 2009 was the San Jose, California show and sale. For a different show plant I decided to transplant my Puna clavarioides into a ceramic pot just to make it look more like a show plant and not an after thought entry. The plant got a lot of comments not to mention best Opuntia in the show. Some where along the line a head got knocked off the plant which is an irritation any time a plant gets damaged. On this plant it was not all that easy to see where the head was detached from. I found it laying on the back of the plant like some one had put it so it would not show as having fallen off. I do not remember now if it was the day after the show or two days after the sale I decided to graft the head and see if I could get some more heads growing in time so as to have plants to sell. Some years ago a cactus nursery I worked at had a grafted plant and it flowed down to the table top and spread out on the table top. It did not look natural and so I never grafted one. Fig. 1 is a picture of my plant as a show plant. Fig. 2 shows the head after it was grafted for two months. I did not take photos of the grafting and the head afterward as I did not know it would grow as quickly as it has. The head was no larger than about the diameter of a pencil when I grafted it. At two months you can see that it is a lot larger than that. In that time the head went from 7 mm in diameter to two cm across and threw three offsets. The offsets are held on by almost a thread. Where the heads are connected to the head below is about may be only 2 mm in diameter. In habitat the plants next to never have heads growing on heads and never three or four high. You will never see a clump of much more than several heads if you are lucky. Before my largest plant lost its root it was over 30 cm across and was more impressive than the plant in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. Puna clavarioides show plant.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Single head at 2 months.

Fig. 3 shows two more heads that I took off a plant once I saw that they grow quite easy on a graft. I have always been told that you have to graft Opuntia on Opuntia stock. Well, this just is not so. That graft stock I used is Trichocereus spachianus. That is a hardy and even growing plant. It is not super fast like some stock and it is easy to grow. The only down side of using it is the spines. You will say that you see three heads on the graft stock in Fig. 3. Well you are in a way wrong. You see the one in the middle is the base of one of the other heads. I thought that since I had three heads of graft stock I should try grafting the bottom of one of the heads. As you can see it is throwing four off sets. The root end has no where to grow and so it is throwing offsets. The two tops are just getting larger although they are showing signs of maybe wanting to offset also. Fig. 4 shows the first graft I did after three months of growing. As you can see it is growing those weird finger-like growths on the back head and starting them on the right hand head. People have asked what causes those growths and my answer is that the plant joints have no growing point but as the head is growing so fast they grow these fingers as a way of putting growth some where. If you go back to Fig. 1 you will see very little of that kind of growth as I grow the plants quite hard. I have seen other people’s plants where they get less light and are watered more often than mine and most heads have had the weird finger growths on most of the heads. Since Fig. 4 shows a plant which is grafted it is growing fast and so throwing those fingers. The same time I grafted the heads shown in Fig. 3, I also grafted the head shown in Fig. 5. That head is only about 1.5 cm in diameter and is shooting upward. The top of it looks like it might try to crest through it would not be a crest as like on a Mammillaria as it has no growing point. Fig. 6 shows the three headed graft stock and the two heads and one up side down graft. As you can see they are growing quite well. The head on the left has now thrown three offsets and the main head itself is about 2 cm in diameter and its tallest off set is 4 cm tall and 3 cm wide. The root up graft in the middle is only a bit fatter than when grafted but has the four offsets the tallest being 3.5 cm tall and 2 cm wide at the top. Notice that it is thinking about throwing a fifth offset. The head on the right has two good sized offsets and it also is throwing two more offsets. This array of growth is after one month being grafted.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3. 3 grafts from 2 heads at 10 days.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4. The original graft at 3 months.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5. A further solitary graft at 1 month.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6. The 3 grafts after about 1 month.

What I will be doing with the offsets is to graft some more and to try and root others down. That way it will make a quite rare plant in the trade more available to others. In the past I have taken heads that have fallen off and rooted them down. This takes a while and it takes several years for a plant to grow two or three offsets and get to looking like a serious growing ‘normal for cultivated’ plant.

A word about Trichocereus spachianus for grafting stock. Unlike some tender grafting stock T. spachianus is hardy and is not sucked dry like a lot of stock like Myrtillocactus geometrizans and the Hylocereus stock. It is cold hardy and I grow it outside here year around. I have several large clumps in my yard from which I take stock when I need it. T. pachanoi is another good grafting stock but I myself have better luck using spachianus. I have seen many times where some of these other stock have been sucked dry before the stock wakes up in the spring. Many people graft ‘hard to grow’ plants on these other kinds of stock, these plants wake in mid to late winter and the grafting stock may not wake till mid to late spring. Thus I do not use them nor recommend them as grafting stock.              

This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), September 2009, Vol. 15, No. 3, pages 42, 43 and 45. © TSG and Elton Roberts


Elton Roberts

On the back page of the September 2009 'TSG Journal' I showed some Puna clavarioides that I had grafted. You will notice that on some heads there are finger like growths. I believe that this is caused by the fast growth of the heads of that stem. As the heads have no growing point the plant can do only several things; one is to offset and the other is to grow those finger like growths. I maintain that the finger like growths is due to the plant growing faster than it can make offsets and the excess growth is exhibited in this kind of growth. As the plant settles down or grows more offsets then in time the finger growth will go away as it also tends to do in the time the plant is dormant. I grafted some Puna clavarioides so I could take heads to root down. I did take the heads off the grafted heads and potted them. If you look at Figs. 7 and 8 these are heads that did have finger growths. In the time they have been rooting and starting to grow they have lost most of the finger like growth. I think that the finger growth is used in this case to help make roots and if you look at Fig. 8 you can see that that head is also throwing two offsets. I have seen where grafted or over fed plants will throw finger growth and it will sometimes remain on the heads for years. The reason that these fingers were reabsorbed so fast is that the heads were removed and planted. In order to make roots a normal head will shrink quite a bit before it shows any signs of growth. The heads with the finger growths did not have to shrivel all that much and all seemed to root quite fast and start growing. New owners of two of the sold plants have told me that their plants were also growing new heads.

Fig. 7 Fig. 8

  Figs. 7 and 8. Finger-like growth gone (left) and no finger growth but offsetting (right).

Notice in Fig. 9 that the two heads in the foreground that are out of focus are now concave although when planted they were convex or more rounded on top. They did not have the finger growth and so are having to use water and sugars stored in the heads to make roots. As these heads are well anchored in the soil I expect to see them start to grow and fatten up again soon.

Fig. 9

Fig. 9. Former grafted heads rooted and growing.

I was asked if it is special fertilizing or if it is the climate here that makes the plants grow so fast. I have to say that it is a combination of climate and the grafting stock. The stock is Trichocereus spachianus, which is a fast growing plant. It seems to grow quite well here being an all weather stock. It can take cold down to 9 deg. F as it lived through our big freeze and it can also take quite hot temperatures as it gets to 135 deg. F in my hot houses and they keep right on growing. A lot of unsuitable stock cannot take a wide range of temperatures and some grafting stock that has to be kept above freezing will be sucked dry in the spring by the scion. For a while after grafting I will water the plant about once a week and that helps it not dry out so fast. Once a graft is growing then it goes back to the normal water times. I treat all my plants about the same; when they get fed all get fed. I myself was quite surprised that the Puna clavarioides grafts did so well.  (Note from Alan Hill: Any comments?  No finger-like growths are reported in habitat.)

This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), December 2009, Vol. 15, No. 4, pages 55 and 59. © TSG and Elton Roberts


Rene Geissler

The question of finger-like growths (Page 59 last TSG issue) on this taxon has often been raised before and I believe that it is a result of plants being grafted and so the plants are pushed far too much that way! I have grown these plants for quite some years and no elongated finger-like growth has appeared on plants grown on their own roots. My oldest plant on its own roots is in a 25 inch x 30inch deep pot, flowers profusely every year and is right up against the glass in my greenhouse. The only time I have seen the finger-like growths is when I grafted a plant to produce more growth for cuttings. Most plants in shows are usually grafted and show this odd growth phenomenon. Now I never graft these plants but grow them from cuttings. They root very easily and always have only normal growth. One thing to remember with A. clavarioides is that it needs a deep pot. It does not matter how deep the pot is(it can never be too deep) because there is a very thin long threadlike root with a potato-like root-ball at the bottom of the pot - something that is often overlooked by novices. In habitat plants are often reported with this tuber 2.5 to 3 feet down in the ground. Maihueniopsis and Cumulopuntia also require deep pots to accommodate the taproot.

Alan Hill

Rene is correct that the question of the reason for the finger-like growth has been mentioned before in TSG issues and grafting has been mentioned as a cause. Gilmer & Thomas (5) state that plants on their own roots seldom show such growth. What intrigued me about Elton’s article were his illustrations of the way the cuttings developed, with potential finger-like growth being apparently absorbed back into the normal growth. Elton also drew attention to the possibility of the lack of an obvious growing point on the segment causing the eruption of the finger–like growth. In the last issue I very briefly commented on the difference of the plants in cultivation compared to habitat hoping to have information sent in on the morphology.  I have also recently re-read/read articles on P. clavarioides.

R. Kiesling (1) in an in depth article states that in habitat there is a tuber with some roots growing down but some grow upward. The roots are contractile which means that in the dry season the roots contract, pulling the top of the plant further down into the “soil”. This movement up and down helps to form a neck above the tubers. R. Kiesling defines the neck as “a specialized underground stem with apical and lateral growing points from which the aerial stems are produced yearly”. Each of the latter produce a disc shaped body that appears on the soil surface.  The surface of the body extends by growing outwards at the edges. In the dry season the stems withdraw into the soil causing the single segment on each to break away. Although a few of the segments might root the vast majority die. Plants in habitat produce only a few heads which sit closely to the ground. Gilmer & Thomas (5) report almost all plants they found had 2–5 heads and note the shedding of the heads, similar to the caudex Pterocacti, allows new growth to develop whilst maintaining a small plant to face the elements. No finger-like growth was seen in habitat.

Growing conditions in cultivation obviously contrast greatly with that in habitat. David  Whiteley (3)  has drawn attention to Plate 23  in Backeberg’s Cactus Lexicon which clearly shows the neck. David, however, points out that because we re-plant  the bodies of our cultivated plants at the same depth  there is not the same chance for a neck to develop on cultivated plants as would be with the shifting soil conditions in habitat where the plants can be completely buried and have to grow through the new overlaying soil.

Although we rest our plants they do not become so dehydrated as to cause the initial segment to die off each year. Our plants are not deciduous as in habitat. Thus each year in cultivation the growth takes place on the previous year’s segment (whereas in habitat there would be only a single new head to grow at ground level at the top of an aerial stem).  The previous year’s cultivated segment is therefore encouraged into growth. Some growth might arise from the edges of the top of the segment, where the most active growth took place the previous year, whilst some cells on the surface might start to send up shoots. It is therefore at this stage that a cultivated plant segment is encouraged to develop in a way that would not happen in the wild. Some of the new growth might result in the “natural” conical segments but many others will be finger-like shoots.  In R. Kiesling’s article (1) he suggests that the thin cylindrical growth is an adaption of what happens with stems growing underground in the field before the normal growth appears at the apex when the soil surface is reached. What ever the cause the result is not natural habitat behaviour. Now if one gives a boost in cultivation to the conical segment (either through extra nutrient to the roots or grafting) then the unnatural forces acting on the conical segment will be even greater and one should not be surprised by unnatural (in habitat) results.

It should be mentioned at this point that there are various types of “finger-like” growth. The common one is a single upright. Multiple uprights can develop with sometimes a growth arising which looks like a hand with fingers on it. I suggest the latter is just a more grotesque result of the unnatural growing forces on the plant.

R. Kiesling (1) describes the surface of the habitat (2300-3000 metres above sea level) as “desert paving”- a carpet of pebbles. Underneath is the “real soil - mixtures of very thin soil (clay) plus a thicker material (sand) plus pebbles and stones”. Noon day temperatures can reach 30 degrees C or more, nights are cool (not more than 10 degrees C in summer) and several degrees below freezing in winter. There are strong winds nearly every day in the afternoon with irregular scarce summer rain and a little snow in winter (average of 100 – 300mm total precipitation). This should help indicate the type of growing conditions for cultivation.

R. Kiesling (1) stated that each of us needs to cultivate according to our own growing conditions: light, temperature and its variations. However he recommends well drained compost, winter rest and as much light as possible, although in habitat the plants grow on slopes and therefore are not exposed to full sun all day long.  He suggests submerging pots in sand on a bench will help to control the soil temperature whilst giving the plants much sunlight. D. Brewerton (2) stated he used “a standard open compost, plenty of water May-September, some fertilizer once a month, and a sunny position” resulting in the species thriving and flowering. He agreed grafted plants do better and flower sooner. However he made no reference to the appearance  of  the plants.

Rene  Geissler (4) reported  that his first cutting rooted in about three weeks but D. Whiteley (3) has pointed out that, as most tuberous rooted species tend to make little growth at first until quite a sizable tuber has been formed, people should not be disappointed if initial growth appears slow. Brian Scott has sent comments and a photograph (Fig. 10). He says that the latter illustrates plants grown from four well shaped heads he took off a grafted plant, which also had finger growth, three years ago. Each rooted head has offset but disappointingly all have produced some finger like growth. The plants are growing in his normal compost mix of 50% John Innes soil based compost and 50% grit. He feeds with Chempak No. 8 at half strength and keeps the plants on a top shelf. The plants are only in 3” deep pots and Brian wonders if this is restricting root development and therefore having some effect on the top growth. Finally I have to report that early last year I repotted four plants I have grown hard for several years on their own roots in small pots. They all had some finger like growth. They responded to deeper larger pots, new compost, top shelf and water. I recently examined them closely and found that a plant at the back of the shelf has produced a seven fingered hand plus a thumb (Figs. 11 and 12), close to the glass. It is clear that whilst grafting is most likely to boost a plant’s growth, which will include finger growth, the same effect can be produced on plants growing on their own roots.  I suggest that Rene’s experience of plants development on their own roots is due to his expertise as a grower rather than the potential within a cultivated plant, on its own roots, to produce unusual growth or not. In a recent conversation about the contents of this article Rene stressed the need for a deep pot. This enables the tuber to grow more naturally and also helps to keep the tuber cooler.

Fig. 10

Fig. 10. Puna clavarioides on own roots all showing finger-like growth (Photo: Brian Scott).

Fig. 11

Fig. 11. Puna clavarioides on own roots after a year growing in new compost and treated far better than previously. Now 2¾ inch pot, 3inch deep. Many years ago had been originally a finger cutting. The original finger had elongated to form the present “stem”. The top of the “stem” had died back and was removed when repotted last year. Two new normal growth plus “a right hand with seven fingers and a thumb”. Cupped palm shown.

Fig. 12

Fig. 12.  Back of hand shown. One can understand why this type of plant was  classified as “monstrous” or “cristate” and even at one time as a separate variety: Austrocylindropuntia clavarioides var. ruiz-lealii (Castell.)Backbg. See D. Whiteley BCSJ Vol 10 (2) 1992.


1. Kiesling R. Cactus and Succ. Journal (US). Vol.75 (2003) No. 3. p98-106.
2. Brewerton D. BCSJ Vol 10 (2) 1992 p41- 42.
3. Whiteley D. BCSJ Vol 10 (3) 1992 p12. & Vol 11 (2) 1993 p63.
4. Geissler R. BCSJ Vol12 (3) 1994 p121.
5. Gilmer K & Thomas H. Kakteen und andere Sukkulenten 51 (11) 2000 p. 281-284. I am deeply indebted to Rene Geissler for translating for me this article.

These articles were originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), March 2010, Vol. 16, No. 1, pages 11-13 and 15. © TSG, Rene Geissler and Alan Hill


John Betteley

This is a low growing spreading plant, formerly assigned to the genus Puna which was erected by Roberto Kiesling. The species has a large tuberous root. Arising from the rootstock are obconical joints, occasionally with finger-like extensions. The spines are pectinate and appressed to the segments. The plants can be found in the Mendoza and San Juan regions of Argentina.

The illustrated plant (Fig. 13) is probably the finest example in the United Kingdom and has won first prize in the last two BCSS National Shows that have been held in the U.K. The plant belongs to Bridlington BCSS Branch member David Briggs, who aquired it twenty years ago from George Howell. At the time it was in an eight and a half inch pot having probably been grafted some thirty years ago. The grafting stock has, no doubt, long since disintegrated and the plant now overhangs a twenty four inch pot. Cuttings are generously given away by the owner and root down over time. The author has found that a cutting can take several years to form a tuber before new top growth is evident. For comparison, please see Figs. 14 and 15 for comparison with habitat growth taken by Roger Ferryman.                                   

Fig. 13

Fig. 13. Maihueniopsis clavarioides show winner.

Fig. 14

Fig. 14. Maihueniopsis clavarioides Mendoza, Argentina (RMF arg05 1162).

Fig. 15

Fig. 15. Maihueniopsis clavarioides Mendoza, Argentina (RMF arg05 1186).

This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), December 2010, Vol. 16, No. 4, pages 47 and 60. © TSG, John Betteley and Roger Ferryman