Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida (Cinnamon Bunny Ears)
Opuntia microdasys subsp. rufida (Cinnamon Bunny Ears), also known as Opuntia rufida, is a much-branched cactus that forms a dense shrub…
About the Bunny Ear Cactus
Bunny ear cactus, polka-dot cactus, angel’s wings cactus- no matter what you name call it by, this plant brings to mind the cute and the quirky. The oval-shaped, dotted segments of Opuntia microdasys grow in pairs to look a bit like the ears of a bunny rabbit, hence the plant’s common name. Segments start out as a reddish-brown color and turn green as they mature, and yellow flowers bloom from the tips of segment pads in the early summer. This cactus is native to Central and Northern Mexico, and it grows best in an arid desert environment.
While the bunny ear cactus doesn’t have traditional spines, mature segments do have what are known as glochids. These small, fuzzy-looking mounds of prickles are the “dots” of the polka-dot cactus. Glochids are loosely attached, and it’s easy to accidentally prick yourself just by brushing up against your plant. It’s a good idea to keep your cactus out of reach of pets and children, and you should always wear hand protection when handling it.
Bunny Ears Cactus Care
These plants are a gardener’s dream for their low maintenance and interesting appearance. Water can be the death of the plant but it does need consistent moisture during the growing season. Water the plant when the top one inch of soil is dry. Allow the water to drain out of the pot and remove any excess from the saucer. During fall and winter, water lightly only every 3 to 4 weeks.
Fertilize the plant every other water period during spring and summer with a diluted houseplant food or cactus formula.
Occasionally, the plant will be beleaguered by pests such as mealybugs and scale insects. Combat these with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol.
Bunny ears cactus should be repotted every 1 to 2 years. Wait at least a week after repotting to water the plant. Other than these steps, bunny ears cactus care is limited, and the plant should reward you with its abundant pads and interesting features for years.
Bunny Ear Cactus Care
Now that you have a few pots of bunny ear cacti growing happily in your garden, it’s time to look at how you can care for them and make sure they get all the light, water, and nutrition they need.
Even though these are desert plants, it doesn’t mean they should grow to look scraggy and scruffy like their wild relatives.
Humidity and Light
As is the case with desert plants, our polka dot cactus enjoys an unobstructed exposure to air and sunlight all day long. If you’re growing the plant outdoors, then pick a spot that gets plenty of sun, preferably one facing south.
If it’s a potted plant and you have it indoors, then make sure it’s strategically placed in a window flooded with sunlight at least 4 hours a day. Absent the sun, keep a fluorescent light on in the room for 16 hours every day.
The hardy cactus tolerates high air temperatures. Any temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit suits its growing needs just fine. However, the flowers need a more moderate temperature between 45 to 55 degrees F. So during the bloom season (late spring and early summer), make sure to shield it from the glaring sun.
As for humidity, you should keep it to a minimum. Remember, we’re trying to replicate the conditions of the cactus original habitat in the desert. So, anything 10 to 30 percent humidity will do fine. If you can’t control the humidity, as is the case when growing it outdoors, then cut down on irrigation.
The official classification of the bunny ears cactus by the USDA puts it anywhere between zones 9 and 11. As such, it’s not the kind of plant that needs lots of water.
The shallow roots of the cactus are designed to absorb the smallest droplets of water that hit the soil. Be it rain or morning dew. So you don’t have to water the plant regularly since the roots don’t do well in waterlogged soil and could rot easily.
The cactus can handle dry soil very well. So wait for the top inch of the soil to go dry, before you give it water. In the summer months, this might happen faster than in the cold months of the winter. It also depends on the levels of humidity in your area as we explained earlier.
Just because the bunny cactus is used to the hostile conditions in the desert, doesn’t mean it will survive on the few nutrients in the soil in the pot until you repot it.
To get an abundance of flowers and fruits, you can give it a liquid fertilizer in moderate doses in the late winter and early spring. You can use a well balanced fertilizer or a 5-10-10 one for best results.
Use the fertilizer with every other irrigation. Once the fruits are ripe, hold back the fertilizer until the next season. During dormancy, fertilizers might burn the roots or cause unusual growth that affects the flowering cycle
As we have seen, it’s easy to grow and care for our hardy polka dot cactus. The same applies to pest control. Since the plant doesn’t have stems or juicy leaves, it doesn’t attract your usual run of the mill bugs and infections. However, the spines do attract spiders that use them to build cobwebs.
Other more dangerous insects attack the segments of the cactus to feed off the nutritious sap. Most notably are white mealybugs and other scaly insects. They usually pierce the thick skin of the cactus pads with their sharp teeth and attach themselves to the segments.
To get rid of these pests, you need to be as careful as you can. Be wary of the spines or glochids as you approach this delicate task.
It’s better to use a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol held tightly with a pair of tweezers or tongs. Place the swap firmly on the insect to smother it with the alcohol. Usually, the insects let go of the plant and fall in the pot. Collect them and get rid of them in a bucket of water with a mixture of detergent.