Opuntia microdasys or bunny ears cactus is a flowering plant from the Cactaceae cactus family and indigenous to Mexico, with cactus enthusiasts distributing and cultivating in many different places and climates.
It is a dense shrub that grows to 2ft high and 3ft wide, growing 3ft tall in the wild, and is made of succulent pads or flat stems that reach 6 inches long and about 5 inches broad. It is an ideal low-maintenance starter plant for newbies since it is very forgiving if you overlook watering or caring for it.
It produces new pads in pairs that look like rabbit ears (hence the name), making it a nice-looking plant. The pads appear to be covered in soft yellow fuzz but are short tiny spines that detach at the slightest touch and penetrate the skin and are painful and difficult to extract, so the plants have to be carefully handled.
It can produce yellow flowers in the wild, although it rarely flowers indoors. The cactus will start to grow buds on the top of full-sized pads, opening up into beautiful creamy flowers and turning into fruits resembling a prickly pear, turning purple when fully ripe.
The plant needs full sunlight when grown indoors or outdoors. The best location indoors is the spot getting the most light and this is the ideal place for it to grow, particularly in the warmer months. If you can’t provide the plant with enough light, it can still thrive and grow under LED growing lights for at least 12+ hours. Lighting should be reduced in winter as growth slows down.
It requires watering once every two weeks in the warm months and once a month in winter. It doesn’t like having its roots standing in water so a pot with good drainage holes is necessary. Water it just enough and let it drain from the pot.
Over-watering is a common mistake people make, so watering it well followed by a long interval is much better for the plant rather than watering it regularly with little water.
A low humidity level in the 10-30% range is perfect for the plant to thrive since it originates from arid and low-humid deserts. The cactus favors similar conditions when cultivated indoors and is adversely affected by humid conditions.
It prefers temperature ranges of 70-100°F in warmer months and about 50-65°F in winter for ideal growing conditions. Its environment should reflect the conditions of its original habitat, where there’s a clear shift in temperatures between winter and its regular warmer growing season.
These temperature variations tell the plant when to grow and when to become dormant. If you can’t fulfill their desired temperature needs, the cactus might die off the following year.
It is a cactus hence it requires dry and sandy soil. A potting mix that has about 40% soil, 40% sand along perlite will ensure that the soil will not be too wet.
Using a clay pot with several drainage holes will also help by allowing excess water to evaporate through the walls of the pot.
This plant grows rather slowly and needs repotting just once in 2 years or so to help encourage new growth. Repotting is simple but additional care should be taken when doing so – wear thick gardening gloves or wrap the plant with quite a few sheets of newspaper so you don’t touch the prickly spines.
Repot into a slightly larger container to prevent the roots from going into shock. Ensure the pot can drain well and is filled with the recommended soil mix. Don’t water the cactus after repotting, wait a week or more before watering or feeding.
Propagating this plant is almost similar to propagating succulents. Cleanly cut off a mature pad wearing thick gardening gloves or wrapping it with a newspaper so you don’t touch the pad.
Keep the pad on newspaper or any other clean surface and allow the cut to dry and a callus has formed. Insert the pad into suitable cactus or succulent soil mix, burying the end in the soil.
New roots will begin to sprout from the pad after some time. Water the new cactus as recommended for a healthy root system to be established.
Feed the cactus only during its growing season using a diluted liquid fertilizer to half or a quarter of the recommended dose during every second watering, since your watering schedule is widely spaced out. The roots are very sensitive and stronger fertilizer will damage the plant. Don’t feed the plant in winter, there’s no need for pruning the cactus.
Over-watering might make the base stem become mushy and is often the most common cause of death for these plants, turning stems mushy and causing them to rot and be prone to attacks by pests.
This is impossible to correct so the only available option left is to prune off healthy, fully formed pads and propagate new plants. Follow the recommended watering schedule to keep the plant thriving and healthy.
Wrinkling of the pads might indicate that it is either under-watered or over-watered. Inspect moisture levels of the soil and reduce watering frequency if it is too wet and increase watering if it is very dry.
Pests like scale or mealybugs can infest the cactus in their home. While it is hard to spot the tiny insects, signs of their presence will show up, with mealybugs forming white patches and scale insects forming brown rough scabs on pads.
They can be eradicated with cotton swabs or a brush saturated with rubbing alcohol. Repeat until all the bugs have been eliminated as new babies might still hatch, so the plant has to be monitored often.