Mammillaria Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Pincushion Cactus”

Read our guide to the Pincushio Cactus for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing & caring for “Mammillaria”
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The Pincushion Cactus is one of the most popular cacti out there. Are you thinking about adding one to your collection? That’s a great idea! If you already have this cute cactus in your home and you want to ensure it doesn’t just survive, but thrive, read on.

After all, we all love it when someone compliments our beautiful indoor plants!

Contrary to popular belief, the Pincushion Cacti are very easy to care for, so they can be a great project even for a novice gardener. They are tiny cacti that make a superb addition to your succulent display.

The Pincushion Cactus is a member of the Mammillaria, which includes over 250 species. Most of them are native to Mexico, but some come from the U.S., Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Venezuela, and the Caribbean.

The first species of Mammillaria was described by Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Its name comes from the Latin mammilla, which means nipple, in reference to its shape. Apart from the common name Pincushion Cactus, this plant has other funny and interesting names, such as Nipple cactus, Fishhook cactus, or Globe cactus. Some popular species from this genus are called Old Lady, Woolly Nipple, Owl’s eyes, and Cushion Foxtail. They certainly get points for originality! Let’s find more about this weird and special cactus:

About Pincushion Cactus

  • Pincushion Cacti are perennials that grow in arid environments such as the upper Sonoran Desert.
  • The Pincushion Cactus is generally grown indoors due to its preference for warm climates, although it can tolerate some chilling outdoor temperatures.
  • This prickly little specimen is covered in white spines and fluff all over its surface, so it’s best to handle it with care and with thick gloves when replanting.
  • Some Pincushion Cactus specimens are solitary, but most of them are clustering. Some species can even grow as much as 100 little ones around them.
  • The Pincushion Cactus is not toxic to children or pets, although it’s best to keep them away from its spines. Make sure to check the label and identify the exact type of cactus you have, as some species can be poisonous.
Mammillaria Cactus
Mammillaria Cactus

Pincushion Cactus Features: An Overview

  • Mammillaria is small and doesn’t normally grow more than 6 inches (15 cm) in height and up to 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. This means that you can easily place it on shelves, windowsills, or the desk.
  • Most of them are conical, round, pyramidal, or cylindrical. Their distinctive feature is the areole split into two separate parts, one at the apex of the tubercle and the other at its base. While the apex is responsible for growing little spikes, the base part bears the flowers and fruits.
  • The Pincushion Cactus grows beautiful flowers in a crown-like formation. The colors range from white and green to pink, yellow, and red, often with a darker mid-stripe. Betalain pigments that are found also in beets give these cacti their vibrant reddish hues.
  • Its fruit is often elongated or berry-like and is usually red, although sometimes they are magenta, green, white, or yellow. Their seeds are dark-colored and vary from 1 to 3 mm in size.
  • If you ever find yourself wandering through the desert, know that the Pincushion Cactus fruits are edible and a good source of water.
Flower of the Pincushion Cactus
Flower of the Pincushion Cactus

Growing Pincushion Cactus

If you are keeping your Pincushion Cactus indoors, you need to provide it with bright sunlight. Try placing it in front of a south-facing window, but avoid leaving it in direct sunlight for more than 4 hours a day. Ideally, place your plant in a spot where it gets plenty of morning sun and lots of indirect sunlight for the rest of the day. If placed outside, choose a partially shaded location such as under a light canopy.

Keep the temperatures between 50°F and 75°F (10-24°C). The ideal temperature for the Pincushion Cactus is around 70°F (21°C). During winter, allow the cactus to cool off to encourage it to flower the following season. You can place it in a spare bedroom and keep the temperature between 60°F and 65°F (15-18°C). Mammillarias thrive outdoors during the summer, so get your cactus outside as often as possible.

You can grow Mammillaria plants outdoors all year round if you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8-10. Winter can be a deal-breaker for the Pincushion Cactus, so if you live in a cold climate consider bringing them indoors as the cold catches on.

Pincushion cactus
Pincushion cactus

Repotting Pincushion Cactus

Most cacti need to be grown in a mix of fast-draining cactus/succulent potting soil. You can also prepare it at home by mixing regular potting soil, coarse sand, and pumice. During the growing season, your Pincushion Cactus will benefit from a specially-formulated fertilizer for cacti every other two weeks.

Repotting is also an important part of cacti care, and especially for the Pincushion Cactus that bares offsets. The most important rule is to repot when pups have filled up the container or when the roots start showing through the drainage holes. Make sure the soil is dry when you repot and that the container is not too large for the plant.

Watering Pincushion Cactus

Pincushion Cactus is tolerant of drought and can survive for short periods without water, so you don’t have to worry about it when you go on holiday. During the growing season, add more water when you notice that the top few inches of soil have dried out. Water the cactus thoroughly, and make sure to empty the drip tray after the excess water has runoff. Avoid exposing your Pincushion cacti to sitting water and prolonged dampness. These plants should never sit in a dish of water.

With the arrival of fall, you should only water once per month or even less. The plant just needs enough water to prevent it from shriveling up. During winter, the Pincushion Cactus enters a period of dormancy, so it won’t need any moisture during this time. You can occasionally mist the soil to prevent it from getting bone dry. When it comes to Mammillarias, overwatering is more problematic than underwatering it.

Mammillaria Zeilmanniana Cactus Plant, From Amazon

Avoid keeping Pincushion Cacti in bathrooms or kitchens where humidity is naturally higher. Also, refrain from misting this cactus and make sure not to place them in a room that has a humidifier. These plants love dry climates and they can have a hard time surviving in humid conditions. It is best to separate cacti and succulents from humidity loving plants so the moisture around them doesn’t increase.

Propagating Pincushion Cactus

There are two easy ways to propagate Pincushion Cactus: offsets and seeds. Most gardeners consider it best to propagate Mammillaria from offsets. When it comes to succulents and cacti, mature plants produce babies known as offsets. They usually appear in clusters around its base and you can separate and replant them. However, some people like to leave the offsets attached so that the container can fill up.

To propagate Mammillaria from offsets you must first equip yourself with thick gardening gloves. Next, remove the pups from the mother plant, by gently tugging at them. Detaching them is usually quite easy. But, if you are having a hard time, help it along with a sterilized, sharp knife.

Once you remove the offset, set it on a paper towel and wait for a few days while the wound closes. This is an essential step to prevent your pup from rotting in its own moisture once planted in new soil. Once the wound has a layer of thin skin over it (callous), you can plant it in a well-draining cactus mix. Pincushion Cactus feels most comfortable in small, shallow dishes where they can become rootbound. Water the new cactus thoroughly and then care for it as you normally would.

To propagate your Pincushion Cactus by seeds, start the process in spring. The best soil to use is cacti-mix. Sow the seeds on top of the mix and then cover them with a thin layer of sand. Set the container in a warm place, not less than 70°F (21°C). Keep the top moist and remember to water it regularly, so the seeds don’t dry out. After the plants have grown to a considerable size, pot them together or alone.

Mammillaria , From Amazon

In conclusion

Pincushion Cacti are beautiful flowering plants that require little care. Because they don’t grow much in size, they are ideal for small spaces and can easily fit on shelves. You don’t have to be an experienced gardener to successfully grow them. However, you must be aware of a few basic care techniques that are common for most cacti and succulents.

The Pincushion Cactus is a sun-loving plant, but cannot tolerate too much direct sunlight, so it needs some diversity when it comes to lighting conditions. Also, they don’t like too much water and can go the entire winter without a single watering. If you love Pincushion Cacti and you want to add more to your collection, you can propagate them by separating the offsets that grow at the base of the mother plant or by seeds.

Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact

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