How to Grow and Care for the Bunny Ear Cactus

A bunny ear cactus (Opuntia microdasys) in a terracotta pot against a white tile background.

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The bunny ear cactus (Opuntia microdasys) is a popular houseplant that is not only attractive but also low-maintenance. Native to Mexico, Opuntia microdasys goes by several common names including bunny ear cactus, angel’s wings cactus, and polka dot cactus. But don’t be fooled by these cute nicknames, while the bunny ear cactus may look less threatening than other cacti varieties with large and intimidating spikes, this cactus is just as prickly. Each white “dot” on the surface of the bunny ear cactus is actually a glochid, which are patches of hundreds of small spines that can dislodge in the skin easily. Ensure that you take care when handling a bunny ear cactus, and use protective gloves if necessary!

Tip

If you happen to get the spines of the bunny ear cactus stuck in your skin, the easiest way to remove them is to gently press a piece of tape against the affected area until all of the spines are removed.

Botanical Name Opuntia microdasys
Common Name Bunny ear cactus, angel's wings cactus, polka dot cactus
Plant Type Cactus
Mature Size 2-3 ft. tall, 4-5 ft. spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
Native Area North America
Toxicity Non-toxic
Close up photo of the bunny ear cactus (Opuntia microdasys) pads.

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Bunny Ear Cactus Care

This cactus is easy to care for and thrives on neglect. The most important factor in keeping the bunny ear cactus happy and thriving is ensuring that it has enough sunlight and does not get overwatered.

Light

The bunny ear cactus requires consistent bright, direct sunlight and should be placed in the sunniest spot in your home. Ideally, this cactus should receive between 6-7 hours of direct sunlight a day. When grown indoors, this usually means that it should be placed in a south or west-facing window, or provided with a grow light. When grown outdoors, ensure that the cactus is not planted in a location that is covered by any shade throughout the day.

Soil

Like most cacti, the bunny ear cactus prefers dry, sandy, well-draining soils. A standard cactus or succulent potting mix is sufficient and can be easily found at most nurseries or garden centers. Alternatively, you can make your own potting mix at home by mixing equal parts potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite.

Water

This desert dweller is drought-tolerant and does not require frequent watering in order to survive. In fact, the bunny ear cactus is actually extremely sensitive to overwatering and prone to root rot if it is exposed to too much moisture. Allow the soil to dry out thoroughly between watering, and when in doubt, wait a bit longer before you water again. Remember that in the desert cacti can survive weeks, sometimes even months without water.

Temperature and Humidity

The bunny ear cactus requires warm, dry conditions and does not tolerate frost or excess humidity. Keep temperatures between 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 37 degrees Celsius) and avoid excess moisture by ensuring that the potting mix is well-draining and the potting container has drainage holes. This cactus can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA zones 9a to 11b, but otherwise should be overwintered indoors to avoid cold damage.

Fertilizer

This cactus grows well in poor quality soils and does not require regular fertilization. However, it can benefit from a yearly application of a cactus or succulent fertilizer in the early spring to help boost growth during the active growing period.

Is the Bunny Ear Cactus Toxic?

The bunny ear cactus is non-toxic to both pets and humans. That being said, the spines that cover the surface of the cactus do pose a risk to humans and pets and are painful to the touch and easily dislodged from the cacti. If you have pets or small children, ensure that you place the bunny ears cactus out of reach in a safe and secure location.

Propagating the Bunny Ear Cactus

Like most cacti, the bunny ear cactus can be readily propagated by cuttings. Simply remove one of the pads from the cactus and set it aside for 24 hours so that the base of the pad can callous over. Then, pot the separated pad in a separate container in a well-draining potting mix and place it in a location that receives a couple hours of direct sunlight a day. Wait to water the new plant until a few weeks have passed to ensure that roots have begun to sprout.

Repotting a bunny ear cactus (Opuntia microdasys) on a wooden background.

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Potting and Repotting the Bunny Ear Cactus

The bunny ears cactus should be repotted every 2-3 years. To repot this cactus safely, ensure that you have access to a pair of thick gardening or work gloves to protect yourself from the sharp bristles. You can also utilize tongs to ensure that you don’t touch the cactus yourself.

Using the gloves or tongs to hold the cactus in place, gently wiggle the root ball out of the old pot and remove as much of the old soil from around the roots as you can. Then, transfer the cactus into the new pot, adding the fresh soil around the roots and patting it firmly into place.

Common Pests and Diseases

The bunny ear cactus can be occasionally bothered by common pests such as mealybugs or scale, but are otherwise fairly pest-free. Both of these sap-sucking pests can be treated with regular applications of rubbing alcohol with a Q-tip or cotton swab to the affected areas. 

The most common disease to watch out for with the bunny ear cactus is root rot which results from overwatering or excess moisture and can be identified by brown mushy stems or roots. Unfortunately, once root rot is found it is usually too late to do anything about it. However, you can remove the unaffected pads and propagate them to save the remaining portions of the plant.