Stenocactus Multicostatus Guide: How to Grow & Care for the “Brain Cactus”

Our Guide to the Brain Cactus - everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Stenocactus Multicostatus”
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Each cactus species is unique and beautiful in its spikiness. However, as impartial as we want to be towards all species and varieties, we must admit that certain species are truly spectacular, especially the ones that have unusual shapes, colors, flowers, or glochids.

Such is the case of the Stenocactus Multicostatus whose pleated, globular shape steals the spotlight in any garden. This low-growing, wrinkled cactus species is sometimes classified as Echinofossulocactus Multicostatus, and it is also known as the Wave Cactus. It is a low-maintenance plant, which thrives indoors in sunny and warm locations.

If you’re not yet convinced that the ‘Brain Cactus’ is an amazing plant, keep reading.

About the Brain Cactus

  • The name of this species comes from the Greek words “stenos” which means narrow and “multicostasus” which means multiple ribs.
  • Stenocactus Multicostatus is native to Mexico, specifically to the Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango, Zacatecas, and the Nueva Leon regions. The dry meadowlands suit it well, and it adapts well to draughts by hiding in the rocky soil.
  • Its small size and low-growing nature make it suitable to be grown in pots. In suitable environments, it can also be grown outdoors. It thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9A to 11B. It grows particularly well in Arizona and California.
  • These cacti are susceptible to diseases, especially when they grow old. Their roots are also very sensitive. To prolong their life as much as possible, inspect them regularly for diseases, and repot mature plants every 2-3 years.
  • Unlike most succulents, this cactus species has no known medicinal properties, and there are no records of it ever being used in alternative medicine.
  • Like most prickly plants, it is unlikely that this cactus will draw the attention of your pets or children, but there are no known facts regarding its toxicity.
Stenocactus multicostatus
Stenocactus multicostatus

Brain Cactus Features: An Overview

  • As the name suggests, this cactus features multiple narrow ribs. A mature plant can have about 100 ribs. The dense ribs are generally wavy, but sometimes they can also be straight. Each rib can have 2-3 aureoles with 6 to 9 spines.
  • The spines are gold at the base and brown towards the ends and their size varies from 5 mm to 8 cm. Usually, the lower spines are smaller whereas the upper spines are longer and wider.
  • The upper spines tend to be erect while the lower spines usually point downwards, and the overall arrangement of the spines is somewhat crosswise.
  • In terms of appearance, the ‘brain cactus’ is one of the most versatile cacti species. You will not find two plants with the same number of ribs, the same supination or shape. Its variations differ in shape and flower colors.
  • Young plants are covered with white felt, so it’s quite common for people to label them as ‘white’ cacti.
  • The most popular variations are Stenocactus Crispatus which features long spines that cover the ribs, Stenocactus Phyllcanthus with stiff spines and yellow flowers, and Stenocactus Coptonogonus with straight ribs and short spines.
  • Overall, this cactus has a globular shape and its color ranges from gray-green to deep green. Mature plants can often develop a more cylindrical shape, whereas plants with several stems develop a pyramid shape.
  • The brain cactus is a slow-growing plant that can grow up to 12 cm tall, and while it is usually solitary, it can sometimes feature 2 or 3 stems.
  • This lovely, wrinkled cactus produces some delicate flowers that grow up to 2,5 cm in diameter. The flowers are usually pink, purple, or white.

Growing the Brain Cactus

The brain cactus prefers moderate temperatures ranging from -7 to +10 degrees Celsius. Potted plants can be left outdoors on patios. However, they can be sensitive to winds, so it is best to place them in a sheltered location. It is best if you move them out of direct sunlight during heatwaves.

In their natural environment, they hide from the sun between rocks, but this is not possible for potted plants, so you will have to protect them from direct sunlight. When the temperature drops below -7, it is best to move them indoors.

As far as the growing medium goes, this cactus can adapt to almost any soil if it has good draining properties. For optimal results, choose a mineral substrate. You can use any pot, but you will get the best results with plastic pots, as they don’t overheat quickly, and once they do heat up, they maintain the heat for a longer period, keeping the cacti comfortable throughout the night. The Brain cactus enjoys regular fertilization in the growing season, from early spring to early fall.

Brain Cactus
Brain Cactus

As we already mentioned, regular repotting is necessary to prevent diseases, but be very careful as the sensitive roots of the Brain cactus can be easily damaged. Allow the soil to dry out completely before repotting. Once you remove the plant from its pot, shake off the soil to expose the roots and inspect them carefully. Remove the rotted or dead roots and use a fungicide to treat root cuts. After repotting the plant, allow it a week to adapt to its new pot before watering it again.

This is a solitary plant, and while it can embellish any cacti collection, it is best not to mix it in with other plants. Ideally, allow it a 15 cm perimeter for its spines to develop unencumbered. To simulate the plant’s native rocky environment, you can place some pebbles at its base. This will also create a pleasant visual effect.

Watering the Brain Cactus

Like all succulents, the Brain Cactus enjoys squeezing every drop of water from its environment, so allow the soil to dry out completely before watering it. Depending on the plant’s size and its pot, you will generally have to water it every 10 days during the warm seasons and reduce the watering frequency to once every couple of weeks during the colder months. Make sure to always empty the drip tray, because this cactus has sensitive roots that are prone to rotting in high humidity.

These watering guidelines work for most cacti, but keep in mind that each plant is unique, and its environmental conditions heavily impact its watering needs. So don’t keep a tight watering schedule. Instead, monitor the plant and the soil’s dryness to know when it is time to water it.

Whatever you do, don’t mist it. Most people think that cacti need little water and they make the mistake of slightly watering their cacti, but this is not a good method. Cacti like to be watered thoroughly and then left unwatered until the soil is dried out. You can give them a generous watering of the soil. Or, you can put water in the drip tray and allow the plant to get the necessary amount until it saturates and empty the drip tray afterward.

Brain Cactus
Brain Cactus

Propagating the Brain Cactus

This cactus propagates from seeds or offshoots. Offshoots are not very common, and when they do appear, most people prefer to leave them in the same pot with the mother plant to obtain a unique cactus specimen. A Brain cactus with multiple stems is indeed spectacular.

Due to its slow-growing nature, many people prefer to buy new plants than to propagate from seeds. If you are patient and you want to see a tiny brain cactus evolve from seed to maturity, you can surely try seed propagation.

You can buy the seeds, or if you already have a plant, allow it to bloom and develop fruits. When the fruits open, gather the seeds, clean them, and allow them to dry. Keep in mind that these plants don’t fertilize themselves so if you have a single plant that doesn’t produce seedpods, you might need to buy one or two more and wait for them to flower simultaneously.

The seeds germinate easily, like most succulents. You can use a seedling starter mix or a shallow tray that you can cover with a glass lid. Don’t dig holes for the seeds, but gently press them into the soil and tap the tray on a hard surface to settle the soil. The soil should be slightly moist, but don’t water them for a couple of weeks until they germinate.

The glass lid should maintain a proper amount of moisture. Once the seeds germinate, remove the lid to allow air circulation. A seed mat will improve your chances of success, and if you don’t have proper natural light, you can also use some led grow lights.

With offshoots, the process is fairly simple. Allow the soil from the mother plant to dry completely, remove the offshoots with care, and plant them in a separate container. Allow the new plants a couple of weeks to adjust to the new container before watering them.

In Conclusion

If you are a cacti lover looking to add a unique specimen to your collection, the Brain Cactus is a good choice even if you don’t have a lot of space. It also makes for a great gift, and it is even suitable for beginner gardeners since it is a low maintenance plant. Brain cacti suit any home, but they fit modern interior decors very well, perfectly complementing wood and stone accents.

Ready to start growing Brain cacti? Let us know in the comments!


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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