Tephrocactus geometricus is a species of cactus family native to the desert areas of Argentina and the areas along the Bolivian border.
These miraculous dwarf succulents with almost geometrically correct structures in nature thrive in conditions that few other plant species can tolerate. It grows at an altitude of 7200-9500 feet in the blazing sun and baren, dry, sandy, or clay soil.
The little plant is one of the showiest members of the subfamily Opunitaceae since it can offer so much: an irresistible formation, a variety of colors, and even gorgeous Tephrocactus geometricus bloom.
It is no wonder that the plant, also known as Opuntia geometrica, is highly appreciated and sought after houseplant among collectors and cactus lovers.
What Is Tephrocactus Geometricus?
Tephrocactus geometricus is a small, spherical segmented cactus that grows loosely branched into low clumps. Each segment is one to two inches in diameter and has a blue to purple color exposed to full sun.
The new growths are dark purple creating a stunning overflow of shades from blue to purple during the different growth stages. It is almost spineless or has sporadic, downward turned spines, concentrated in the upper part of the global segments.
Tephrocactus geometricus flowers have a funnel shape. They are big and showy, most often double, white or pink with a darker center. Unfortunately, each Tephrocactus geometricus flower lasts only one day. Yet, the segments bloom alternately, which prolongs this beautiful floral show.
Tephrocactus Geometricus Care
If you want it to thrive in its full decorative potential, place your Tephrocactus geometricus in the brightest spot in the house. The ideal position is on the south window sill because it is a place where they will get the necessary 5 to 8 hours of sunlight.
Accustomed to adapting, Tephrocactus geometricus will thrive even in shady spots, but in that case, it will grow more slowly and bloom rarely or not at all. In summer, you can take the plant outside to the garden in a bright and sunny place.
However, do not immediately expose it to direct sunlight. The plant needs a few days to get used to the new circumstances, so place it where it will get the sunlight only part of the day. After a few days of acclimatization, you could remove it to a position where it will get more sunlight but avoid the spots where the sun will shine from morning to night.
In a long adaptation process, this cactus has developed the ability to survive in an almost waterless ecosystem. Growing in a climate where rainfall is sporadic, like tilandsi, this cactus can draw moisture from the air and deposit it in its thickened fleshy stems and roots.
The moistureless soil is what the cactus is used to, so do not water it often. However, this does not mean leaving it without water for weeks. Cacti are usually grown in small-capacity pots in direct sunlight, so the water in the soil evaporates relatively quickly.
Although it can survive even when you forget to water it, it will thrive better if you give it some water at least once in 14 days.
In winter, when the water evaporates more slowly due to the short day and lower temperatures, water it only every few weeks, especially if you keep it in a low-heating room.
Yet, when watering a cactus, remember that excess water is much more dangerous for this plant than its deficiency.
The best option for growing this and every other cactus is to plant it in a ready-made cacti mixture that is combined to suit their needs. Such soil is highly porous, has a rougher structure, and is more similar to the ground in their natural environment.
The standard substrate for houseplants is not intended for growing cacti because it retains moisture for too long and contains nutrients that can burn the cactus root.
If you can’t find a ready-made mixture, then you can make it yourself by combining one-third of the standard soil for houseplants, one-third of coarse sand or gravel, and one-third of perlite or pumice. The combination, with its structure, allows fast drainage of water, lightness, and airiness of the soil, and the geometricus loves just that!
As a base for the mixture, you can also use ordinary garden soil without humus. Add sand and perlite in equal amounts, and your homemade cactus soil is ready!
Tephrocactus geometricus grows in unwelcoming areas of dry soil and dry air. It is an adaptable plant, and it readily grows as a houseplant at a standard humidity level of 30 percent or less. Simply put, you do not have to pay special attention to the humidity of the room.
You should not keep it in a group with plants that require high humidity and whose leaves you regularly spray. Also, move it away from the humidifier (if you use this device) because increased moisture levels are a luxury that this plant does not get in nature, so it can’t even cope with it! On the contrary, elevated humidity levels can cause rot of shoots or roots.
This modest plant does not require additional fertilization and will generally grow using what it has in the soil. However, if you want to encourage or accelerate its growth or bloom, you can use a standard liquid balanced liquid fertilizer. Dissolve the fertilizer in water and apply it once a month from spring to autumn but use it diluted to half the concentration recommended.
Since the root of this cactus is sensitive to too aggressive fertilization, the best option is to feed it with special fertilizers for succulents and cactus. The advantage of such fertilizers is the low concentration of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, so their N-P-K is usually 4-6-7 or slightly above these values.
You can use it in the recommended concentrations without risking overdose. Also, a slightly increased proportion of phosphorus stimulates the formation of flower buds, which is a benefit when it comes to the Tephrocactus geometricus.
The cactus is, of course, a direct association to the very sunny desert, so it sounds surprising that Tephrocactus geometricus can withstand pretty low temperatures even up to 23 F.
However, it is susceptible to a combination of low temperatures and humidity in the air and soil, so you cannot leave it outside exposed to precipitation during the winter, even if you live in mild-winter regions.
Yet, the space in which it resides should not be colder than 43 F. This means that it can spend the winter in a poorly heated area such as hallways or corridors and bright basements.
Moreover, wintering at slightly lower temperatures encourages more abundant flowering next year! That is why you can keep your Tephrocactus geometricus outside the pleasantly heated living room without fear during the winter! Ideal conditions include summer temperatures above 70 F and winter temperatures ranging from 50 to 60 F.
Even though cacti always look great in decorative ceramic pots, your priority while choosing the container should be the one with drainage holes since the rapid drainage of water from the substrate is a vital factor in their cultivation.
The root of the cactus is not developed and is usually disproportionate to the aboveground part. It grows horizontally more than vertically, so broad and shallow pots have an advantage over narrow and deep ones.
Also, containers made of baked clay or terracotta are more suitable than plastic ones. Pots made of natural materials retain porosity and can absorb any excess water from the substrate.
Tephrocactus geometricus is a plant that grows slowly. Due to that, we should not transplant it often, only every second or third year when it branches enough to cover the surface of the substrate in the pot.
New shoots or globular segments are very loosely attached, so it is often impossible to keep them together in the formation they previously grew. No matter how carefully you do this, the plant might still fall apart.
But, as usual, the medal has two sides. The plant may lose its previous form, but you can plant all the separate segments as individual plants that will eventually develop their colony of charming globular shoots.
Tephrocactus Geometricus Propagation
You can propagate Tephrocactus geometricus in two ways: by cuttings and by seeds. Each method has its advantages but also disadvantages. To propagate by cuttings, you must have an adult plant available.
If you do not have it, you can get the seeds, but growing a new plant this way is a very time-consuming process because the seeds germinate very slowly, and it sometimes takes three or four years for the future Tephrocactus geometricus to emerge!
- Cut the spherical segment along the base itself, as close as possible to the place where it is connected to the other segments.
- Leave it for a few days in a dry and shady place to form callus.
- When the cut dries, you can place the segment into a container filled with a mixture of soil and perlite or sand. Instead of burying the cutting, lightly press it with your fingers to make better contact with the soil and stay upright.
- Do not water after planting because the rootless segment is additionally prone to rot!
Usually, it takes four to six weeks for the cutting to develop the roots. Only when you notice the new growth, you can water the plant for the first time.
– Seed Propagation
Tephrocactus geometricus seeds germinate so slowly. It is because the seeds have a protective sheath or inhibitor whose function is to delay germination until surrounding conditions are favorable enough for the seedling to develop into a plant.
In nature, this defense mechanism allows the seed to germinate even after a few years. On the other hand, it is an obstacle since the moment in which the seed ‘decides’ to germinate is a mystery that is difficult to solve.
So if you opt to try to propagate Tephrocactus geometricus this way, you have to be patient.
- Prepare a bowl filled with cactus mix and perlite in a ratio of 30:70. Spread the seeds on the surface, but do not cover it with substrate because it needs light to germinate.
- Water the pot, cover it with a plastic bag, and place it in a warm and bright place.
- In addition to light, the seed also needs a constant temperature above 65 F to germinate. That is why it is most practical if you use a heat mat or lamps.
- Do not allow the substrate to dry out and keep it moderately moist.
If nothing happens in the next two or three months, it does not mean you have done something wrong. Accept the challenge, and if you are lucky, maybe seedlings will show up in the next few months.
Common Tephrocactus Geometricus Problems
The most common problem you may encounter when growing Tephrocactus Geometricus is related to over-enthusiastic watering. Accustomed to minimal amounts of water, the plant cannot cope with a wet substrate or moist air.
The consequence of such circumstances is usually root rot which causes the whole plant to suffer. So do not allow your Tephrocactus geometricus to sit in a damp substrate.
If you still overdo it with watering, remove the plant from the wet substrate and let it air dry for a day or two. Cut off the rotten parts and replant the plant in a dry substrate that should not be watered for at least the next month.
If the rotting process has already affected the entire root, try to find a healthy segment that the rot has not eroded, cut it off, and plant it as an individual plant.
To successfully grow this charming little cactus, pay attention to the following:
- Plant it in a ready-made cactus soil or make a mixture of standard substrate or garden soil, sand, and perlite in the same proportions.
- Water only when the substrate is completely dry, once every 15 days in summer, once a month in winter.
- Grow it at a temperature above 70 F during the summer and about 50-60 F in the winter.
- If you want the cactus with flowers, place it in the brightest place in the house. In summer, you can take it outside, gradually getting used to sun exposure.
- It does not need additional fertilization because it is adapted to live in poor, sandy soils.
- Propagate it by separating the segments that you can plant as individual plants.
Like other cacti, Tephrocactus geometricus is a tough, durable plant accustomed to coping with harsh conditions and harsh environments. Its thickened round stems grow in an unusual, almost extravagant formation resembling a group of accumulated small balls.
It has beautiful white or pink flowers, and with all that, it will not sting you since it almost has no thorns!
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