Many years ago I received a box in the mail. When I opened it there was a Tephrocactus joint larger than a tennis ball. As I was going to the Oakland Cactus and Succulent show and sale as a vendor I took the box and contents along to the show. I got there and opened the box and everyone that saw the joint of Tephrocactus alexanderi ssp. bruchii DJF 316 wanted to be the first on the list to receive the first off set. In less than an hour I had about 60 people that wanted the first off set that I removed. Over the years I have only taken a few off sets and I have kept them to make more plants. At the time I was use to Tephrocactus articulatus and its upward growth and so I potted my new plant in a 5.5 inch [14 cm] diameter pot that was 4 ¾ [12 cm] inches deep. At the time I figured that would be the perfect pot for a plant that grows a ball on top of a ball. That head was almost exactly 4 inches [10 cm] in diameter so it was a perfect fit in the pot. I have re-measured the heads on the two plants and they are between 3.5 and 4 [9-10 cm] inches in diameter. Somehow I have always thought that a tennis ball was larger than the 2.5 [6.4 cm] inches that they are.
I took the photographs for Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 with the tennis ball showing the size compared to the Tephrocactus joints and I sent them to several people that I thought would comment on their size. I thought they would know the different sizes that the plant joints grow. Maybe I was wrong but I have Tephrocactus bruchii with joints only about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and smaller. They are the ones that are seen most often. The NCL in the description says that the joints of T. bruchii are to 9 cm long and 3 to 5.5 cm in diameter. The NCL does not recognize any sub species of Tephrocactus alexanderi. So they are all grouped together there and that is a shame. All the T. alexanderi and ssp. bruchii that I own have joints that are almost round like a ball not oblong as the NCL is indicating. As the plants do not have a growing point they break through the skin of the parent joint all folded with deep groves. In essence they are full blown joints but have not been filled with fluid as yet. It is like a balloon, it is small when empty of air but fill it and it is round.
I had one person that had plants that looked like a hoe handle in shape. The plants are about 3 to 4 cm in diameter and 13 to 15 cm tall. She gave me one of them so I could see that the plants she has are not round jointed. With the light I gave it, the joint was round like a ball in only about a month and half. When I showed her she got upset and said that she gave her plants plenty of light. That was several years ago and hers are still elongated. I have seen several people that grow T. alexanderi v. geometrics and others under too much shading and the plans grow hoe handle shaped. They start out round and before long they are about 3 times taller than they are in diameter. The plants in habitat grow at a high elevation and so have much less atmosphere to cut out the UV rays than at much lower elevations. I have fished a lake at just under 8000 feet elevation and the sun felt like it was about 110 degrees. There were some stunted willow trees there that are about six feet tall at the most. I would sit in the shade of them and then I would become cool and have to go out in the sun to warm up again. The UV makes it feel very hot. Before I figured out what was going on I became sunburned several times. Yet I worked outside here at home all the time and did not get sunburnt. It is in that high elevation strong UV light that the plants grow. They need strong light but not the really hot temperatures.
Photos for Fig.s 3 – 5 are of plant 1, Fig. 3 is before the plant was cleaned up. It is in a 14 cm diameter pot that is 12 cm deep. It has been in that pot since I received the head. I had to stand the plant in another pot to keep it upright for it was heavy on the one side and would not stand up. I carefully removed the plant from the pot trying not to break any joints off. One did drop off, that one is a medium sized head. Removing a lot of the old soil was not too hard but then I had to plant the plant. That had to be done with care so as not to break off the entire left hand chain of joints. As it was I had to remove the lowest joint or the rest would have snapped off. I was lucky for I did not quite break it off. To keep the lowest joint from rooting into the soil I put a rock under it. Fig. 4 is of the front of the plant after being re-potted; it is 45 cm wide. Fig. 5 is a side shot of the plant and that is 28 cm. and the plant is 20.3 cm tall.
Figs. 6 and 7 are plants I am calling plant 2. Again it is before and after cleaning up and re-potting. This plant is 25.5 x 15 cm wide and deep and it is 20 cm tall. I have another plant of T. bruchii DJF 316 that is in the shape of a Y. I took all the soil off the roots and I potted it in mineral soil to see how it grows compared to plants potted in my regular soil. Figs. 8 and 9 are another Tephrocactus alexanderi ssp. bruchii but it is DJF 318. Notice how different looking it is from plants 1 and 2. The spines on DJF 316 mainly hug the plant on this plant they are sticking out at all directions. If you had to go by the spines and its flowers [Fig. 10] you could very easy believe it is a different plant. This plant is 28 cm in diameter and 25.5 cm tall. Its flowers are 5 cm in diameter and white in colour [Fig.10]. Its filaments are white, the style has a touch of pink in it and the stigmas are sparkling white. Fig. 11 is the flower of T. bruchii DJF 316; it is pink with darker mid-stripes up the petals. The style is about the same colour as the petals and the filaments are a bit different colour of pink. The stigma is also a sparkling white and it has 3 to 4 lobes more than the flowers of DJF 318.