Bunny Ear Cactus Growing Advice

Picture of the Opuntia microdasys

Enthusiasts of this traditional cacti enjoy its easy to please nature. Despite the cute name, the Bunny Ear Cactus is in no way cuddly.

The polka dot cactus (other common name) is fairly easy to grow if a grower can provide enough bright light, no over-watering, provide it's winter resting period and average room temperatures. Simple!


Origin: Mexico
Names: Bunny ear and polka-dot cactus (common). Opuntia Microdasys (botanical/scientific)
Max Growth (approx): Height 12 - 18in/30.5 - 45.5cm


The Bunny cacti is native to northern Mexico and desert regions stretching into Arizona. This plant has the appearance of a shrub, and spreads out to cover between 2-5 feet of ground as a mature plant. Named for its visual appearance, the Bunny Ear Cactus, also called the Polka-Dot Cactus, has the scientific name of Opuntia microdasys. The spines come off with a simple touch, and are best removed from flesh with tweezers.

How It Looks: This cacti has no central stem or leaves. The individual segments which constitute the cactus body are oval shaped pads from which additional segments form. These new segments always grow in pairs, giving new growth areas the appearance of bunny ears. Newest segments grow in as a red color, and mature to dark green as they grow. Flowers will always sprout from the terminal ends of segment pads.

The Polka-dot Cactus covers its mature pads with closely spaced glochids, or small mounds of prickles that are designed to detach when impacted by something. Once fully formed, the glochids form on the new plant segment. The glochids are so loosely attached that a strong breeze can cause them to go airborne.

Growing Outdoors in India

Picture of cacti plant

Flowering: Flowers only bud at the termination points of fully formed segments. Budding begins in late spring, and culminates in early summer with 2 inch wide blossoms. These are a creamy yellow in color, and fade to peach once fertilized. Flowers will turn into 2 inch long fruits varying from purple to red in color. Bloom encouragement is not needed.

Poisonous : The fruit and flowers are non-toxic to pets and children, but the glochids are moderately irritating to the skin.

Giving Some Love And Care

    Close up picture of glochids on optunia nmicrodasys
  • Temperature: This cactus enjoys temperatures ranging from 70-100°F (21-37°C), but demands cooler temperatures during the winter months. Starting in the late fall, this cactus should be kept between 50-65°F (10-18°C), and away from central heating vents. The cooler spell is demanded over the course of the entire winter, during which time the segments of cactus will turn a light gray color. Failure to provide these controlled winter conditions will result in plant death the following spring.

  • Light: This cactus demands full light growing for most of the year, except during the winter cycle. For the plant's health, light should be reduced to partial sun during this time.

  • Watering: Polka-dot Cactus is a desert species. It should be given water on a regular basis during its first season in a new pot. This will help it to create a strong root system. The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy. After the first season, more sporadic watering is required. During the winter cycle, the cactus should not be watered at all, with watering to resume in the early spring.

  • Soil: Like most cacti, this specimen demands sandy soil-bases that drain easily. It is usually happy with the pre-packaged cactus soil found in common hardware stores. To increase drainage for a picky plant, mix in a 1:1 ratio of perlite or bark.

  • Fertilizer: Bunny Ears enjoy a monthly feeding of low nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilization should stop one month before the planned winter cycle for the plant's health.

  • Re-Potting: Re-potting should take place in the summer, after the year's bloom has finished. Remember to water the plant regularly to promote the growth of a healthy root system during its first year in the new pot.

  • Air Humidity: This cactus prefers low humidity conditions. Consider running a dehumidifier in the room where the cactus lives to provide it with the most ideal conditions possible.

  • Propagation: Any fully grown pad from this cactus may be broken off cleanly in the early summer and re-potted for propagation purposes. Cuttings work best when grouped in threes or more, and should be buried an inch deep in the soil. Remember to water regularly to promote the growth of a healthy root system in the first year after propagation.

Potential Problems

  • Stem base rot: Naturally a desert plant, the Polka-dot Cactus requires only occasional watering. Too much water will cause the root system to rot away. Watering too much during the winter can cause rot. The plant is likely to die now (unless it suddenly begins to recover) and you take pad cuttings for propagation.

  • It's not growing: The cause could be due to lack of or too much watering. Reduce or increase to the correct amount's and wait to see progress.

  • Brown patches: Brown cork type feel patches appearing on the pads can be caused by insect's damaging it or a drop in temperatures.

  • Pad tips shrivelling: This can be caused by over-watering.

  • Insects: Mealy bug insects can cause white patches on the pad surface, and scale insects can cause a kind of brown scab effect on the pads.

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