Prickly, decorative and with a touch of exotic flair – Mammillaria cacti, which with their 400 species represent the largest family of cacti, inspire every hobby gardener. The easy-to-care-for green plant, which hardly grows larger than 10cm, forms either a squat spherical or a columnar body and presents numerous warts with thorns on the surface. The plant looks particularly pretty between spring and early summer; during this time the cacti form bell-shaped flowers. Robust and easy to care for, even beginners can cultivate it.
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Almost all types of Mammillaria cacti prefer a location that is as sunny as possible, which provides the plants with plenty of light. Shaded areas are less suitable for cultivation. If the plant is exposed to the sun all year round, pretty thorns in different colors and particularly lush flowers form. Green species are the exception here; such plants should be protected from the blazing midday sun. It has proven beneficial to cultivate Mammillaria cacti outdoors during the summer. Here the plant thrives at temperatures between 20 and 24°C.
Alternatively, however, keeping it as a houseplant is also possible; during the growth phase, the plant then copes well with normal room temperatures. South-facing windows, which offer plenty of sun and warmth, are particularly suitable as a place on the windowsill. Alternatively, cultivation in a bucket is also possible; then the beet-like shape of the roots must be taken into account, especially with regard to the size of the container. No matter whether the plant is in the garden in summer or cultivated in the apartment – a change of location should be avoided in any case and will damage the plant.
For optimal cultivation of Mammillaria cacti, the soil should have the following properties:
- good permeability
- acidic to neutral pH
Suitable mixtures are, for example, substrates made of one part sharp sand or perlite and two parts compost with a little peat. Alternatively, you can use a mixture that consists of sand with a little peat and an admixture of pumice or lava rock. The chosen substrate is filled in a wide bowl if you want to cultivate group-forming species; Plants that are grown individually, on the other hand, fit well in conventional planters. This also applies to species that produce only a few side shoots or children.
Watering, fertilizing, repotting and overwintering
Careful watering is the most important part of optimal care for Mammillaria cacti. During the growth phase, the plants are watered evenly, whereby the top layer should be dry before the next watering. From April to September, the plants usually receive a portion of water every eight to ten days. To prevent rot, care must be taken not to get water on the cacti, between the mother plant and the young at the base. For this reason, it has proven useful to water the plants from below. For this purpose, the pot is placed in a bowl filled with water. Now wait until the surface of the soil feels slightly damp.
Care also includes the regular supply of nutrients to the plant. During the growth phase, the Mammillaria cacti are supplied with a special cactus fertilizer or a complete fertilizer rich in potassium at four-week intervals.
The cacti are repotted in spring. For this purpose, the individual plants or the entire group are carefully lifted out of the bowl. It is best to grasp the plants at the base with cucumber tongs.
If the previous container is already well rooted, the repotting takes place in a larger plant container. In doing so, as much of the old substrate as possible is shaken out of the root ball; depending on requirements and the size of the new plant bowl, fresh soil must be added when repotting.
The optimal care of the cacti also includes an ideal hibernation. The plants are not hardy – so you have to cultivate the cacti indoors during the rest period. During this time, watering is very sparing; just enough moisture is added to the soil so that the substrate does not dry out completely. Overall, cultivation takes place during the cold season under the following conditions:
- Temperatures between eight and ten degrees Celsius
There is no fertilization during this time.
propagation and sowing
The best way to propagate the Mammillaria cacti in group-forming species is to separate the children. After the parts of the plant that should be used for propagation have been removed from the plant, the resulting cut surfaces are dried. This takes two to three days. Then you press the Kindel with the cut surface into the plant pot filled with cactus soil.
Otherwise, the cacti are propagated by sowing. To obtain the seeds, the berries, which develop after flowering in autumn, are picked from the plant. The seeds are in the fruit pulp. To get this, the berries are squeezed out on a piece of blotting paper and left in a dry place for a few days. After the drying time is over, the seeds can be collected and saved until next spring. The seeds then germinate at temperatures between 22 and 24°C.
Combat pests effectively
Mammillaria cacti are particularly frequently attacked by mealybugs . Flaky wax excretions and, as the infestation progresses, growth disorders present themselves as damage symptoms. The use of ladybugs, bugs and parasitic wasps helps preventively; if an infestation is already present, the lice must be wiped off or cut off the plant together with the shoots. In the case of a severe infestation, it is worth using suitable oil-based preparations.
Numerous species are also affected by spider mites. The pests leave numerous tiny light spots and later light gray spots on the plants. The main remedy is insecticides based on rapeseed oil. But preventive measures can also help: predatory mites, predatory bugs and ground beetles are considered natural enemies and are used in a targeted manner.
Among the most important types of Mammillaria cacti you can count the following species:
- Mammillaria spinosissima, bocasana, elongata, gracilis, vetula, senilis, luethyi
Mammillaria vetula offers a particularly decorative picture; the cactus forms flat cushions and grows profusely. The pretty spherical shoots have a grey-green, shiny colour. The plant, which reaches a size of up to ten centimeters, looks particularly pretty because of its lemon-yellow flowers, which grow up to 18mm long. The fruits are either whitish or greenish in color. The cactus is particularly widespread in various Mexican states. The subspecies Mammillaria vetula subsp. gracilis is particularly common in culture; however, the flowers of cacti of this species reach a maximum length of 12mm, while Mammillaria vetula subsp. vetula show 15mm long flowers.
Specimens of Mammillaria boscana are no less impressive . The name of this cactus means “from the Bocas site,” denoting the plant’s place of origin in Mexico. The plant forms groups of green shoots, which are also initially spherical in shape, but can also assume cylindrical shapes with age. The warts are also cylindrical and consist of very soft flesh; Milky juice is not included.
The central spines, of which there can be between one and seven depending on the growth, stand out due to their reddish to brown color and are up to one centimeter long. The cactus also has up to 50 radial spines that appear hair-like and can grow up to 2cm long. Overall, the plant reaches a size of eight centimeters. The white to pink flowers, which are shaped into a funnel and can reach a diameter of 15mm, are particularly pretty. The cylindrical fruits are also pink or red in colour, the associated seeds appear reddish or brown.
Mammillaria elongata (elongata=extended) impresses above all with the elongated shoots, which have a cylindrical shape. These appear as classic cushions of the cacti species. The shoots reach a diameter of one to three centimeters. Slender and also cone-shaped warts, which are located on the cacti, are characteristic of the commonly cultivated cactus.
In most cases the classic central spine is completely absent; sometimes, however, a maximum of two spines appear, which are yellow or brown in color and have a black tip. Radial spines, on the other hand, are always present, usually between 10 and 25; the white to golden yellow thorns appear slender and needle-like and are up to 9mm long. The flowers of this type of cactus are particularly decorative and have a pink or pale yellow colour. At a later stage, these turn red. There are basically two subspecies; Mammillaria elongata subsp. echinaria, in contrast to Mammillaria elongata subsp. elongata quite reliably has two 15mm long central spines.
The species Mammillaria spinosissima is very thorny and yet very pretty and grows simply cylindrical. The imposing body of the cactus grows up to 30cm long and up to seven centimeters in diameter. The blue-green color of the succulent is very decorative. The addition in the name, which translates as “thorny” means, can be seen at first glance in this species; the dense stocking of the spiky formations can be seen above all on the rounded crown, which leaves a woolly impression.
The overlying warts are conical and somewhat angular, reaching a size of 5mm. Up to 30 radial spines form a ring of bristles on the cactus. The number of central spines varies in this species and can range from two to 17. These hardly sting and have different very decorative colors, for example white, yellow, ruby red or reddish brown. Within the wreath, pretty flowers also appear, which are about two centimeters in size. The outer petals are brownish with a pink edge, while the inner petals appear crimson. Green or red fruits complete the picture of the frequently cultivated cactus.
Mammillaria cacti are among the particularly decorative succulents, which beautify both the home garden and the home due to their versatility. Since these are robust and easy-care plants that generally require little care, cultivation can be done with very little effort. And among the different species that are available within this cactus genus, there is something for every plant lover.