If you've spent any time at a nursery or garden center, chances are you've probably spotted one of the most popular members of the cacti family, the powder puff cactus. Beloved for its classic appearance, the powder puff cactus is part of the mammillaria genus, which contains at least 275 species of cacti, many of which are highly prized among collectors. Although this genus includes some plants that are difficult to maintain, the most common ones, like the powder puff cactus, are very easy to grow.
Native to Mexico, the powder puff cactus grows rapids, producing small, round offsets that cluster around the parent plant. The body of the cactus itself is stocky and usually a blue/green color, covered in white, silky hairs that encase the entire plant. It may look fluffy, but take care not to touch it—the spines are pretty sharp. It will produce small white or red flowers in summer, often in a circular or halo shape.
|Botanical Name||Mammillaria bocasana|
|Common Name||Powder puff cactus, powder puff pincushion, snowball cactus, fishhooks|
|Mature Size||3–5 in. tall, 2–4 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Flower Color||White, pink, red|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
Powder Puff Catcus Care
If you can grow cacti and succulents successfully, you can likely grow the popular powder puff cactus without too much trouble. Though only suitable to the outdoors in dry, warm desert environments, the cactus can thrive indoors in almost any home if the proper sunlight and temperature requirements are met.
Unlike many other cacti, which use their ribs as storage devices, the powder puff cactus features raised tubercles, from which spines emerge. When you water, the tubercles expand to allow for increased water storage. Flowers will also emerge from the axils of these tubercles during the summer. To encourage better flowering, allow the plants to enjoy a cooling period in the winter, which includes suspending watering and, if necessary, moving the plant to a cooler location.
Though it's considered an easy plant to care for, light availability is by far the most important factor in keeping your powder puff cactus alive. The plant appreciates strong light and will thrive if given several hours of bright sun a day. Keep it on a windowsill in your home that boasts uninterrupted light, or take care to move it around your space throughout the day (or place it outside during the warmer summer months) to make sure it fills its light quota of at least eight hours a day.
Like most cacti, drainage is key when it comes to the soil for the powder puff cactus. Opt for a cactus or succulent soil mixture that incorporates coarse sand or perlite to aid in drainage. Additionally, plant the cactus in a pot with holes at its base to let out excess water—one made from a clay or terracotta material can also assist in wicking up extra moisture.
A good rule of thumb for all cacti: When in doubt, water less than you think you should. With the powder puff cactus, you want to allow the soil mixture to become completely dry between waterings, soaking it deeply and thoroughly when it comes time to do so. Never let the plant or pot sit in water. Come winter, the cactus will go dormant and all watering can cease; if you notice your powder puff cactus shriveling or appearing to dry out, you can lightly mist it occasionally.
Temperature and Humidity
The powder puff cactus loves hot heat and thrives in temperatures that are consistently between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. As it goes dormant in the winter, you can decrease its temperature needs slightly, and keep it in a cooler area of the house (between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit), to encourage a bounty of spring flowers.
During the cactus' summer growing season, feed it with a liquid fertilizer mix specially formulated for succulents or cacti. Be sure to suspend all feeding in the fall and winter as the cactus goes dormant.
Propagating Powder Puff Cactus
Powder puff cacti can be propagated easily from offsets, which readily form in clusters around the base of the mother plant. To propagate, carefully remove the offset and set it on a paper towel for a few days to allow a callus to form over the cut surface. Place the new plant in a pot with a potting soil mixture, and keep it in a warm place until new roots emerge. Once the plant is established, repot it into a regular container.
Potting and Repotting Powder Puff Cactus
You can repot your powder puff cactus as needed, preferably during the summer season. To repot cacti, make sure the soil is dry and gently remove the plant from the pot. Knock away the old soil from the roots, removing any that are rotted or dead in the process. Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with potting soil, spreading out the roots. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.