Cacti of the Month (May, 2005) Opuntia microdasys

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Cacti of the Month (May, 2005) Opuntia microdasys

Post by templegatejohn » Thu Aug 25, 2005 8:09 am

Opuntia microdasys v. 'Angels Wings'
(Leymann) Pfeiffer


Growth Habits:
This Opuntia has the growth characteristics of most of the genus, but tends to grow more upright than many of them. In habitat or open ground it can achieve a height of 3ft. and a spread of 6ft. The cladodes (pads) are usually slightly longer (usually up to 4in. [10cm]) than they are wide and they are spineless, but don’t be fooled by this, they have tufts of thousands of barbed glochids which can attach themselves to the unwary at the slightest touch and are annoying and irritating, rather than painful. There are a number of varieties, rufida has reddish glochids, albata has white and is perhaps the smallest variety usually only growing to 18in tall. It is also the one that is most likely to flower when pot grown. There is also a monstrose variety. The plant can be grown from seed, but in practical terms is almost always propagated from cuttings of the pads (which should be at least one year old).

Scientific name: Opuntia microdasys

Bunny Ears, Polka Dot Cactus. The monstrose variety is sometimes called Funny Bunny.

The generic name "Opuntia" refers to a Greek name used by Pliny for a diverse plant which grew in the region of the town of Opus in Greece. Microdasys: From the Greek mikros, small, and dasus, hairy.

Origin: Mexico (Hidalgo)

Light: This plant will take all the sun you can give it, but will also grow well in light shade.

Compost: Your normal compost mix will suit this plant fine. If you are known to be heavy handed with the watering can, mix in a little more grit.

Water: Once the plant is established in open ground it does not need a great deal of water. If it is kept in a pot, water slightly less than normal. Nevertheless give it a good soak and then allow to dry completely before watering again. Do not water little and often which is a recipe for disaster.

Flower: The flower can vary from yellow towards orange and is not often seen on plants in pots, but they do appear in profusion on plants in open ground. The fruit is round and reddish in colour.

Min. temp:
It can stand 20°f. (-7°c) for a brief period, but may shed some of its pads. A more reasonable minimum temperature would be about 45°f. (8°c.)

Cultivation: This plant is quite easy to keep. As has been said above a normal compost is quite adequate with not too much fertiliser (this would tend to make the plant grow unnaturally). One of the beauties of this plant is that you can train it to the shape you would like it to be by removing pads that are surplus to requirements, a little like training a bonsai tree. If the plant is desperate for water (unlikely), the top pads will start to droop, but will soon become erect again after watering.

Comments: The Opuntia microdasys in the photographs is a variety called ‘Angels Wings.’ It has small cladodes, a more compact growth and best of all the glochids do not have barbs. This is a real plus as they do not stick into your fingers, arms or anything else you are unwise enough to put near them. If you are going to handle the other varieties with barbed glochids, spraying the plant before hand helps to stop the glochids transferring themselves to your skin. Another trick is to have some sellotape handy. Stick it to the area of skin where the glochids can be felt and peel it off, the glochids usually come with the tape. The glochids strange as it may seem are one of the ingredients of ‘itching powder.’

If I was told that I would only be able to keep one cactus. I think it would be this one. In my opinion it is the epitome of what a cactus should look like. The plant in the picture is probably a fourth or fifth generation of the original parent plant.