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Widely known for its unique and flat pad-like leaves, hassle-free care and maintenance, and the absence of long and sharp spikes, the bunny ear cactus, otherwise known as cactus opuntia microdasys and polka dot cactus, is a great addition to your plant collection.
You will surely love the fact that it can tolerate neglect, especially if you are a plant lover but can’t spend a lot of time on the care and maintenance of a garden due to your hectic schedule.
Quick Facts About the Bunny Ear Cactus
- Botanical/scientific name: Cactus opuntia microdasys
- Common name/s: Bunny ears cactus, polka dot cactus
- Type of plant: Succulents
- Type of soil: Well-drained
- Size: 4 to 12 cm (broad), 6 to 15 cm (long)
- Origin: Northern and Central Mexico
- Toxicity: Non-toxic to humans and pets but has glochids that may cause moderate skin irritation
The bunny ears cactus is a native plant of Northern Mexico as well as the desert regions that stretch into Arizona. The cacti look like a shrub and tend to spread out, covering around two to five feet of ground as soon as they become mature plants.
The bunny ear cacti actually got its name because of its visual appearance. It has spines that tend to come off just by simply touching the plants. It would be best to remove those from flesh using tweezers.
One more fact about the bunny ear cacti is that they are part of the Opunta genus composed of around 150 to 180 flat cacti species. Also called the prickly pear, the Opunta genus is one of the most famous and widespread genera in the US.
Physical Features: What Does the Bunny Ear Look Like?
In terms of its physical features and appearance, one thing that you will immediately notice about the Opuntia Microdasys (bunny ear) is that it forms a dense shrub, which has a height of around 40 to 60 cm. Some of its specimens, though, can grow taller from time to time.
This succulent, which is also known as polka dot cacti, also features succulent stems that are thick and look like pads. It does not have a central stem. Meanwhile, the pads that it has grow in pairs all the time, resembling bunny ears.
Also, unlike other cacti species, the bunny ear has plenty of short prickles in whitish-yellow shades called glochids. These parts are more sensitive compared to the thinnest hair of humans and appear in dense clusters and at a length of 2 to 3 mm.
With proper care, the bunny ear or polka dot cactus will eventually display small creamy yellow flowers.
The bunny ear cacti are types of succulents with flowers that bud only at their completely formed segments’ termination points. Expect the budding to start during the late spring and end during the early summer with blossoms that are around 2-inch wide.
These blooms are creamy yellow that tend to fade and turn to peach once you fertilize the plants. The flowers will also turn into fleshy globular fruits that are around 2-inch long and appear in purple to red shades upon the end of its bloom season during the early summer.
Caring for your Bunny Ear Cactus
What is great about the bunny ear cactus is that it is easy to grow. A way to understand its growth is to study where it originally and naturally grows. Apply this in the way you plant and care for the cactus and focus on these aspects:
As a vital element of its growth, light is an important factor in caring for your bunny ears cactus. Ensure that these plants constantly receives full and bright sun. It can even tolerate a bit of neglect provided it receives full sunlight. If indoors, put it by the window that lets it receive the full sun it needs for it to thrive well.
As a succulent, the watering requirements of the bunny ear are also similar to it. The requirement is to water the cacti when you are one hundred percent sure that the soil is dry completely. The reason is that succulents are drought-resistant, making them store excess water in their stems and leaves.
With this excess water, you can leave them to dry before watering again. An effective technique of figuring out whether you should water the plants is to check if the topsoil is dry first. If that is the case, then it is time to water it.
Another technique is checking the plant’s weight. If it is heavy, then it means that there is still water in the cacti. If the weight is normal, then it is the perfect time to water it.
You may also want to make a schedule depending on the climate and weather in your place. Water more during the hot and dry seasons and lessen it during the cold season or winter months.
Regardless if the cacti is indoors or outdoors, ensure that you stick to the required low humidity, usually at around 10 to 30 percent. It is, therefore, not necessary to find ways to increase the level of humidity within your home and garden. Your cactus can also thrive with just indoor humidity.
The bunny ear cactus loves to stay in environments with warm temperatures That said, it loves to be in temperatures of around 70 to 100 degrees F. It is not fond of staying in the cold, so ensure that it is indoors during the cold season or winter months.
The bunny ear cactus needs a soil with proper water drainage capability. You may want to mix together perlite, pumice, sand, small pebbles, and houseplant or natural fertilizer to have that soil. All those work in draining excess water quickly plus prevent the roots from showing problems triggered by overwatering.
You may also want to create your own unique potting soil mix using 40% potting soil, 20% peat moss, and 40% sand. Expect the pad to root after several weeks.
If you plan to make your bunny ears cactus an indoor plant, then make sure to prepare a properly draining container for it – for example: a pot with several drainage holes. Avoid using an unglazed clay pot as it causes excess moisture to evaporate, which may kill this type of succulent.
Of course, growing it outdoors is highly recommended. Keep in mind, though, that it is only hardy in zones 9 to 11.
If grown indoors, the bunny ear may grow slowly due to the fact that the soil where it grows does not nourish it. If that happens, you should feed the plant with fertilizer to increase its growth. You can actually use regular houseplant fertilizers for the cactus.
It is advisable to dilute this fertilizer with water, though, to lower its strength a bit. You may also want to feed the plant once every month. This would be enough in providing them with nutrients crucial for their healthy root system and growth.
How to Propagate Using Cuttings?
It is completely easy to propagate the bunny ear cactus. You can do the entire propagation process through cuttings. Just be extra careful when handling the cactus and its cuttings to prevent skin irritation.
Here are its propagation steps:
- Choose a mature mother plant where you can propagate.
- Wear gloves or use tweezers when breaking off its pads – This is to prevent you from directly touching the plant when needing to break the pad off.
- Look for a rooting hormone where you can dip the root – The rooting hormone can make the process of building a healthy root system quicker.
- Prepare the appropriate soil – A wise choice is a cactus potting soil placed in a clay pot. It should be bigger than the bunny ear.
- Let the part where the cut can be found heal – After that, put the cactus inside the soil – around an inch deep.
- Water the plant – Put it in a place that allows it to receive sufficient sunlight. After just several days, you can expect the plant to develop roots. Ensure that you water the plant regularly to promote healthy root system during its first year. Be extra careful with overwatering, though, as it may result in root rot.
The bunny ear cactus comes with juicy leaves and stems that may prevent the usual pests, infections, and mill bugs from infesting it. However, it also has spines capable of attracting spiders as they use such parts of the plant in building cobwebs.
They may also deal with other harmful attacks from insects and pests, particularly scale insects and white mealybugs. These pests and insects attack the cactus’ segments as they feed off the sap that provides them with nutrients. Expect them to pierce the cactus’ pads thick skin using their sharp teeth then penetrate the segments.
Controlling these scale insects and pests requires proper caution as you may have to directly get exposed to the glochids. Still, the whole pest control process is possible by soaking a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol then holding it tightly using tongs or tweezers.
Put it firmly on the pest or insect. In most cases, these insects will release the plant as they fall into the pot. Remove them by putting them in a bucket containing water and detergent.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can you touch bunny ear cactus?
No, it is not advisable to touch the opuntia microdasys using your bare hands. This cactus is not actually toxic or poisonous, but it can cause skin irritations. It is the reason why you need to use nitrile-coated gloves, newspapers, thick towels, or tongs when handling it.
How much sunlight does a cactus bunny ear need?
If you decide to grow the bunny ear outdoors, then you need to expose it to bright sunlight for a minimum of six hours. You should never deprive it of sunlight as it is what it needs to ensure that all the vital nutrients it needs are present.
In case you grow it indoors, provide it with bright light for around 14 hours. If you can’t find a spot where it can get sunlight, you may use substitutes for the natural sun. Some examples are light bulbs and white fluorescent tube lights.
Is bunny ears cactus poisonous?
No, it is not, but you should still avoid making it come in contact directly with your skin. It has glochids recognized as the dots of this cactus, which is also why it is also known as polka dots cactus. If you do not take proper caution when handling the plant, these parts may pierce you, causing skin irritation.
Do the bunny ears feature thorns?
No, the opuntia microdasys does not come with thorns. You can expect them to have a spine called glochids, though. One of the main functions of the glochids is to get rid of animals that may damage or eat them.
The glochids or spines also contribute to the ability of the bunny ear to store water. They provide sufficient shade if the plant is grown in an extremely sunny and dry environment. The spines in the bunny ear cactus also contribute to the survival of this plant in harsh and dry conditions, even those that are desert-like.
Is it necessary to trim the bunny ears cactus?
Yes, you have to trim this plant once its pads become too large, causing it to tip over. It is essential to prune or trim the cactus at this time as it helps in getting rid of its dead parts and pups.
You can even use a saw if the bunny ear cactus is already too large. Do not forget to wear nitrile-coated gloves at the time you trim the plant.
Is the bunny ears cactus a rare species?
No, it is not. As a matter of fact, it is a famous houseplant among houseplant enthusiasts and growers. The main reason is that it is low-maintenance. It is even possible for you to order this plant from online shops, like Etsy and Plant desert as well as from cactus nurseries close to you.
Overall, the bunny ears (opuntia microdasys) species is a lovely and unique cactus you can grow in your home. The fact that it is not that complicated to grow and care for is the reason why it is perfect for new gardeners.
Just ensure that you provide a dry environment for your bunny ears as well as an area with low humidity and adequate sun. When grown indoors, use potting sandy soil and drilled pots, too. Also, remember that it loves to end its growth until summer and survive in warm temperatures.