The Mammillaria Hahniana cactus symbolizes endurance and hope. Because it can survive in very harsh conditions and because its flowers are so precious and so delicate compared to its needles, the cactus appeals to many people.
This prickly plant is one of the most sought after houseplants. It is also known as the Old Lady Cactus, Old Lady Pincushion, or the Birthday Cake Cactus. It belongs to the Mammillaria genera which contains over 200 plant species, most of which are native to Mexico.
If you want to grow Old Lady Cacti, you should know that these are very undemanding plants that can thrive in any indoor environment with minimum care. Like most cacti, the Old Lady cactus is a great choice for beginner gardeners who are looking for a friendly plant and for experienced gardeners who are looking for a new cactus to add to their collection.
About the Old Lady Cactus
- The name Mammillaria is derived from the Latin word “mammilla” which means nipple. This name is a reference to the tubercules which are very pronounced in the plants that belong to this genus, which was defined in 1923 by cactologists Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose. The second name is a combination of the Greek words “phyton” which means plant and “pachys” which means thick. Last but not least cactus is derived from the Greek word “kaktos” which means spiky.
- The Old Lady cactus loves the outdoors, but it can also be successfully grown indoors, in most homes and offices.
- It is native to central Mexico, but it has a very limited range. It can rarely be spotted in the wild where it grows in clusters.
- Due to its limited range, it is listed as a nearly threatened species. The plant population has dropped significantly in numbers due to deforestation, but also due to illegal collection of wild specimens.
- Mammillaria Hahniana cacti prefer elevations between 750 and 2200 meters, and they usually grow on steep slopes and in deciduous forests.
- The fruits of these cacti are edible. They have a sweet and tangy taste, like strawberries.
- Old Lady cacti do not contain any toxins that could be dangerous to humans or pets.
- Depending on their size, you can find these cacti in independent containers, or in terrariums, combined with other succulents.
Old Lady Cactus Features: An Overview
- The Old Lady Cactus has white, thin hairs. The hairs are somewhat flexible, and they cloak the plant. As the plant matures, its hairs grow thicker, richer, and longer. The hairs can grow as long as 5 cm and as they grow they tend to curl.
- Cacti flowers are always treasured, especially since the prominent flowers rarely occur indoors. In fact, cacti bloom best when they are in desert-like conditions.
- The Mammillaria Hahniana blooms prolifically, which is why it is very sought after among cacti collectors. It starts flowering even when it is young and with proper care, you can enjoy its flowers for most of the year.
- The stem of the Old Lady Cactus has a globe shape when the plant is young. As the plant matures, the stem grows in a cylindrical shape and its color changes from light green to a grey-green.
- The stem of a mature plant usually has a 10-15 cm diameter and it usually does not grow taller than 10 cm.
- This plant features small triangular tubercles.
- It produces pink flowers with a reddish base. The flowers have a diameter of up to 1,5 cm and they develop in a circle, like a crown on the plant’s stem.
- This cactus blooms in late winter or early spring and the fruits develop into small club-shaped fruits, like red chili peppers.
- Among the most popular varieties, we have the Verderm variety, which is differentiated by its purplish-red flowers, The Albiflora variety which features white flowers, or the Bravoae variety with deep pink flowers.
Growing the Old Lady Cactus
This sun-loving plant prefers the outdoors, but you can recreate its natural habitat indoors without too much effort. You basically need to simulate a desert-like environment, so you need to place it in a warm and sunny location in the summertime, preferably close to a source of heat.
It would be great if you could place your Old Lady cactus near a south-facing windowsill. However, keep in mind that windows are also colder spots due to the day-night temperature changes so make sure your plant does not suffer from cold. You can always move the plant around the house a few times until you find it a permanent location to see where it feels better.
An Old Lady cactus needs about 4-6 hours of direct sunlight/day. If your home is not sunny or warm enough, consider using a led grow light, especially when you want to stimulate flowering. During the summer, you can move the containers outdoors, on a sunny patio or balcony. The plant will be grateful for the time spent outdoors, not only due to the extra sun exposure but also because it loves airy spaces.
If you want to grow the plant outdoors, make sure to place it in a sunny spot. However, even though this is a sun-loving plant used to desert conditions, it can suffer during heatwaves. As such, consider moving potted plants during heatwaves or offer outdoor plants partial shelter when the sun shines so bright that it can scorch them. As far as frost is concerned, these resilient cacti can survive in temperatures as low as -5 degrees Celsius if they are in a dry environment. A moist and cold environment will damage the plants severely.
Old Lady Cactus Soil Requirements
When it comes to soil requirements, the Old Lady cactus requires a porous medium with excellent draining properties. You can find special cactus soil mixes, but you can improve those mediums if you combine them with one-part perlite or coarse sand. For healthy growth, this plant will also require occasional feeding. Ideally, you should feed it at least once in the summer with a potassium fertilizer.
If you want to repot your plant, allow the soil to dry completely, and leave it dry for a couple of days after repotting it. It will be easier for the plant to recover from the shock of the repotting procedure in dry soil.
Watering Old Lady Cacti
Outdoors, Mammillaria Hahniana does not need to be watered at all, as they use natural rain to make water reserves which they consume when needed. However, when the weather is exceptionally warm, you can lightly water your outdoor cacti once a week.
Indoor plants will need even less water than an outdoor plant because they are exposed to less sunshine. Keep in mind that overwatering is basically the only way in which you can kill a cactus. So, allow the soil to completely dry out before watering this plant.
Depending on the size of the container, this usually means every 10 days. However, when you do water an Old Lady cactus, do it without restrictions, but make sure that the excess water is properly drained. The plant’s container should have some good drainage holes and no excess water should be left in the drip tray. Misting is not necessary.
Propagating the Old Lady Cactus
The best way to propagate the Old Lady Cactus is through offsets. The offsets develop in clusters around the base of a mature plant. Allow the soil to dry completely before removing the offsets and wear protective gloves during this procedure, as the plant’s spines are very sharp. If the soil was not dry enough when you removed the offsets, you may need to place them on a piece of paper to dry for a few days. You should see a callus on the cut area when the offsets are ready to be repotted.
Use a bit of rooting hormone to give the new plants a boost of nutrients, so that they can recover faster from the shock of the division. This is not necessary, but it will help the young plants develop roots faster. Use a container suitable for the size of the offsets and fill with a special cactus medium.
Plant the dry offsets in the soil, place the container in a partially sunny location. Ideally, you should place the plants behind a thin curtain, and only place them in direct sunlight after a few weeks when they have developed their own root system. Water the young plants once every week. The best time for propagation is in the early spring, after the last frost.
As you can see, the Old Lady Cactus is a very friendly plant and it will add an exotic vibe to your home. Overwatering is the only capital mistake that you can make with this plant, so as much as you care for your little cactus, shower it only with love and not water.
This cactus is ideal for beginner gardeners and it can make for a great gift. If you want to propagate Old Lady cacti and gift them to your friends bear in mind that not all people appreciate these prickly plants. If you want to give someone a cactus as a gift, give them one that already has flowers. This way, you will show them how they will be rewarded if they properly care for their Mammillaria Hahniana.
Do you have an Old Lady cactus? Share your experience of growing and caring for Mammillaria Hahniana with us!