Opuntia Microdasys: The Peter Rabbit of Cacti
Opuntia microdasys, or bunny ears cactus, is a cute and simple houseplant or ornamental to care for. Learn how here.
Looking for a challenge? Opuntia microdasys is a fun plant with a deceiving appearance. Its pads grow in pairs resembling furry bunny ears. It may look friendly and fuzzy, but this cactus has extremely sharp hairs guaranteed to keep you on your toes.
Also called bunny ears cactus, this plant is originally red and turns green as it matures. The prickly “fur” is white, yellow, or reddish-brown depending on the variety. Its beautiful flowers are creamy yellow and bowl-shaped. Once matured, they’ll grow red or purple fruit.
The overall care of Opuntia microdasys is fairly simple, but the prickly exterior makes for an exciting gardening experience.
Good Products for Opuntia Microdasys:
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Bunny Ears Cactus, Rabbit Cactus, Angel |
Wing Cactus, Mickey Mouse Cactus, Polka
|Scientific Name||Opuntia microdasys|
|Height & Spread||2-3 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide. Grows like a |
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water||Water when the soil is completely dry|
|Soil||Well-draining; specialty cactus soil|
|Fertilizer||Low Nitrogen, liquid fertilizer every other watering|
|Pests & Diseases||Scale insects, mealybugs, stem/root rot|
All About Opuntia Microdasys
This plant is sometimes called a bunny ear succulent, but it’s a true cactus. One of the main differences between cacti and succulents are areoles. Areoles are raised portions of the plant that sprout spines or glochids. The bunny ears cactus has “polka dots” of glochids, which are mounds of hair-thin prickles. They can easily blow off in the wind or stick in the skin. Because of this thrilling feature, always handle bunny ears cactus with caution.
When working with any cactus, gloves are essential. Nitrile coated gloves will keep the hair-like spines at bay. You can also try holding it with newspaper or using silicone tongs (metal ones may damage the plant). Keep a loose grip so you won’t damage the plant or hurt yourself. If you do get stuck with the prickles, use tweezers or liquid glue to remove them.
Opuntia microdasys is native to the deserts of Mexico. Because of this, it requires a dry environment that’s above 45° F year round. If you live in a desert region, feel free to stick it in the ground! If not, plant it in a pot that you can bring indoors when needed. Of course, you can grow Bunny Ears Cactus exclusively indoors, as long as it gets enough sunlight.
Types of Opuntia Microdasys
The varieties of Opuntia Microdasys don’t vary much when it comes to care. The main difference is the color and shape of their glochids and pads. Here’s a brief overview of the most popular kinds.
Opuntia rufida, ‘Cinnamon Bunny Ears’, ‘Blind Prickly Pear’
This subspecies grows in Texas, as well as Mexico. It’s mainly recognized by the reddish-brown, or cinnamon-colored, glochids. It’s believed to be taller than Opuntia microdasys, although they are very similar plants. Opuntia rufida is nicknamed ‘Blind Prickly Pear’ because its glochids can easily damage animals’ eyes.
Opuntia microdasys var. albispina, ‘Angel Wings’
This dense shrub has ultra-fluffy, white glochids. It grows like a typical Opuntia microdasys.
Opuntia microdasys var. pallida, ‘Polka Dot Cactus’
The pallida variety is dotted with pale to golden yellow glochids. Its flowers feature a dark green center.
Opuntia microdasys var. pallida f. Cristata, ‘Funny Bunny’, ‘Monstrose Bunny Ears’, ‘Crested Bunny Ears’
This descendant of the yellow pallida has a twist to it – literally. The paddles are unusually curved, bearing a resemblance to coral. Its unique appearance has rightfully earned it the nickname “Funny Bunny”.
Opuntia Microdasys Care
With a good setup, bunny ears is a fairly low-maintenance plant. The key is to mimic a desert environment so they feel right at home (unless you actually live in a desert!).
Because it goes dormant in the winter, you’ll need to modify their care if you’re growing indoors.
For a brief overview of Opuntia microdasys care, check this out:
Light & Temperature
You guessed it! Opuntia microdasys, like most cacti, needs lots of light – about 6 hours a day. They thrive in full sun but handle partial shade as well. If you’re going to grow indoors, a south-facing window is best.
In the winter, limit your bunny ears to partial sunlight. Moving it away from the window and in indirect light should do the trick.
It doesn’t like the cold! It won’t survive in temperatures under 45° F (7° C). If you live in such a climate and insist on keeping your cactus outside, plant it in a pot that you can bring indoors when needed.
If your cactus lives indoors during the winter, ensure that the temperature is a little cooler than usual (around 50-65° F/10-18° C). The plant is more likely to flower in the summer if it’s given a temperature below 55° F (13° C) while dormant.
Water & Humidity
Desert plants are used to sporadic rain and low humidity. Because of this, you should let the soil dry out completely before watering again. You can even leave the soil dry for a day or two.
When you’re ready to water, soak the plant until water comes out of the drainage holes. When it comes to cacti and succulents, it’s preferable to underwater rather than overwater.
Overwatering and underwatering can both result in a droopy, discolored cactus. If your bunny ears cactus isn’t doing well, the first thing to check is the soil moisture.
If your soil is well-draining, but you think it’s still retaining too much moisture, try using a bare clay pot. These have a porous surface that allows water to evaporate through it.
During the winter, water your cactus very little or not at all. The paddles may turn a greyish color, but that’s just a symptom of dormancy.
Well-draining soil is essential for angel wing cactus. There are many pre-made cactus soils that you can buy at the store. It’s very easy to make your own though. Just mix one part potting soil with one part perlite or bark.
You can periodically apply fertilizer from spring to fall, or just a few times during the summer. A good rule of thumb is to fertilize with every other watering.
It’s recommended to use a liquid fertilizer that’s low in nitrogen (ex: 5-10-10). You’ll need to dilute the fertilizer to ½ strength with water. There are also a variety of cactus and succulent fertilizers that you can use undiluted.
Don’t fertilizer your bunny cactus during the winter.
Opuntia microdasys grows slowly but spreads out over time. Choose a pot that allows room for growth, but isn’t huge compared to the plant (no need to waste gardening space). With a pot this size, you can expect to repot the plant every 1-2 years.
When repotting, do so post-bloom in the summer. Once your Bunny Ears Cactus is settled in its new home, water it regularly until the roots are established.
Once you’ve mastered keeping your rabbit succulent alive, you’ll probably want more. Luckily, this cactus is easy to propagate from cuttings.
Using protective gear, gently remove a 1” or taller paddle. Pull or twist it at the very base of the paddle so that no part is left on the main plant. If it doesn’t come off easily, use a sterile knife to cut it free.
Let the cutting dry out on the end before replanting; it will look calloused once it’s dry. This won’t kill the cutting because it’ll rely on its water storage. If you want, dip the end in a rooting hormone for an extra boost.
Once the wound is calloused, plant the cutting upright in well-draining soil. If it’s too large to stand up, lay it on top of the soil. Keep the plant and soil moist for a few weeks. Once the roots show up, plant the cutting if you haven’t done so and give it lots of sunlight.
Continue to keep the soil moist until the roots are established. You can test this by gently wiggling the cutting to feel if there’s any resistance (don’t pull it out though!). When the cutting is rooted, water it regularly for the first year to help the roots grow.
If you’d like a visual, check out this video on Bunny Ears Cactus propagation (the gardener in this video doesn’t wear gloves, but we strongly recommend that you do):
Propagating from cuttings is simpler and faster than seeds.
Opuntia microdasys doesn’t need to be pruned but can be for cosmetic purposes. With a sharp, sterile knife, cleanly cut off the unwanted paddle. Keep the area completely dry until the wound has calloused.
The Mickey Mouse cactus is susceptible to pests and diseases, so always keep an eye out for warning signs. Catching these problems early on can save lots of time and energy later.
The most common problem you’ll face is a drooping cactus. This is Opuntia microdasys’s go-to response for any kind of stress, so there are several possible causes.
Overwatering or underwatering is the first thing to investigate. Both will make the paddles soft and droopy. If you overwatered, let the soil dry out completely before watering again (remember, this is a desert plant). If underwatering is the problem, be more consistent with your watering schedule.
Drooping can also be a sign that your cactus isn’t getting enough sunlight. Check on how much light exposure it gets throughout the day and make the needed changes. Too little sunlight can also result in stretched out paddles.
Brown or black spots may be signs of temperature damage. Your plant is probably frost-bitten or sunburned. This damage is only cosmetic but irreversible.
The best thing you can do to prevent infestations is to catch them early. Here’s what to look for:
Scale insects are small and hungry for plant juice. There are over 8000 species, including the Mealybug, which we’ll discuss below. Scale insects love to be warm and dry, so cacti are very appealing to them. They can make your Bunny Ears Cactus wither, droop, turn yellow and stop growing. If not controlled, they can kill your cactus and infest neighboring plants.
Mealybugs, a type of scale insect, are white pests that drain sap from the plant. They leave a white, cottony residue that may blend in with the glochids. Mealybugs will feed on Opuntia microdasys, causing it to blemish and droop.
If you see ants, you most likely have a scale insect infestation. Ants feed on the honeydew that Scale insects produce. You’ll need to remove both pests since ants will protect the scale bugs.
Scale insects and ants can be removed or deterred by rinsing the cactus with a mix of liquid dish soap and water, or insecticidal soap (avoid anything with bleach). Leave the solution on for a day, out of the sunlight, before washing it off.
If the plant isn’t heavily infested, you can apply 70% rubbing alcohol to the Scale insects individually with a q-tip. Insecticide sprays and neem oil are also efficient in eliminating these pests.
Opuntia microdasys is prone to stem and root rot. This is caused by overwatering or a bacterial infection. Rotted areas of the plant may be discolored, slimy, and mushy. To prevent this, make sure the soil drains well so the plant isn’t sitting in water.
It’s difficult but possible to remove rot from the roots. Carefully remove the cactus from the soil and dust off the roots. Prune all the rotted root and plant sections with disinfected pruners. Keep the cactus dry and out of the soil until the wounds callous. Repot the cactus in new soil and a clean pot, taking extra care of the roots. Don’t water it for a week or two.
If your affected cactus is planted in the ground, check the water drainage of the soil before replanting. Help it drain better by mixing in sand at least one foot below the dugout.
If only the paddles are damaged, you can cut off the affected areas without repotting.
Sometimes, sadly, the cactus is beyond help. In this case, you can always cut off the healthy paddles and propagate them.
Q. Why is my plant growing long, skinny paddles?
A. It isn’t getting enough sunlight. The paddles stretch out in search of more light, which is usually ineffective and unsightly. To prevent further stretching, move the cactus into full sun. If you want to, prune the stretched paddles so round ones can grow instead.
Q. Why do I have a drooping cactus?
A. This is usually a sign of overwatering, underwatering, or not enough sunlight. Drooping is also a symptom of diseases and temperature damage.
Q. How do you remove small cactus thorns?
A. If you can see the thorns, use tweezers to pull them out. If not, spread liquid glue over the affected area and peel it off once dry.