Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia Microdasys)
Pop quiz: Who’s your favorite bunny? The Easter Bunny? Generous, but he never seems to be around when the dental bill comes. Little Bunny Foo Foo? Terrible role model. Bugs Bunny? Hilarious ... but not quite our favorite. Who is? The one and only Opuntia Microdasys, also known as the Bunny Ears Cactus.
What makes this unique cactus our favorite bunny? For starters, nothing else looks like it. Bunny Ears Cactus has a branching, spreading habit that tops out at 2’-3’ high and 4’-6’ wide—but that’s not to say it has actual branches. Instead, Bunny Ears is made of paddle-shaped stems—flattened, fleshy ovals 2”-6” long and half as wide, that begin colored purple-green and age to olive green and on to gray-green. These stems stack vertically, so each paddle has one or more smaller paddles growing out of its upper edge—often in pairs (hence the “bunny ears” reference).
As if that “stacked alien paddles” look isn’t wild enough, every Bunny Ears Cactus is entirely covered in bumpy polka dots that often look soft and cotton-y, but are actually tufts of “glochids”, which is a fancy botanical word for “teeny-tiny barbed spines”. These pincushion-like polka dots give Bunny Ears a cool, even stylish look. They also vary in color depending upon which subspecies of “bunny” you’ve adopted. Golden yellow glochids are most common, but the Cinnamon Bunny Ears (Opuntia Microdasys subsp. Rufida) has brick red (which we love), and other varieties have white.
Bunny Ears Cactus rarely flowers when kept indoors, but if kept outdoors, it may wow you in summer with a weeks-long barrage of 2-inch-wide, goblet-shaped, yellow blossoms that each last only a day.
Best of all, Bunny Ears and Cinnamon Bunny Ears are super easy to grow and maintain as houseplants. Their most important need is spring and summer sunlight, and plenty of it. Give them a front-row seat in the window and they’ll thank you. Come fall, they’re happy to move back a bit so some of their more needy neighbors can soak in the rays. Beyond that, give them very well-drained soil, a drink of water when the soil becomes notably dry, and a tiny bit of fertilizer a few times a year (full details below) and they’re good to go.
Ultimately, Bunny Ears is a unique and wonderful specimen plant, ideal for indoor gardens or outdoor placements in the right climate. They really are the best bunnies.
Just don’t try to cuddle them. Trust us.
Characteristics and traits of a Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia Microdasys)
- Scientific Name: Opuntia Microdasys (Cinnamon Bunny Ears is Opuntia Microdasys subsp. rufida)
- Genus: Opuntia
- Family: Cactaceae
- Common Name: Bunny Ears Cactus, Cinnamon Bunny Ears, Mickey Mouse Cactus, Angel’s Wings Cactus, Polka Dot Cactus, Blind Prickly Pear, Cow Blinder, Clock Face Cactus, Cinnamon Pear, Red Bunny Ears
- Indoor: All year round as long as temperatures are above 45°F
- Outdoor Zones: 9-12
- Type: Perennial cactus; Propagated via seeds (difficult) or cuttings (easy)
- Mature Height: 2’-3’
- Mature Width: 4’-6’
- Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
- Growth Rate: Slow
- Flower: Yes when outdoors - Very short-lived, bright yellow to orange-red blooms up to 3” in diameter
- Foliage: Fleshy, slightly elongated greenish-olive ovals polka-dotted with clusters of tiny yellow or rusty orange spines
Plant Care and Advice for Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia Microdasys)
- Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 9-12
- Light Requirements: Indoors: Full sun (6 or more hours daily) in spring & summer, switch to part sun/medium light in fall & winter. Outdoors: Prefers full sun to partial shade.
- Water Requirements: Water moderately, let drain, allow soil to dry almost completely before watering again. Reduce to a small drink once every 3-4 weeks in winter.
- Drought Tolerance: Very high
- Temperature: Happiest in 70°F-100°F in spring and summer, flowers best if kept slightly cooler while dormant in winter (50°F-65°F, 55°F being ideal). Not remotely frost tolerant. Bring indoors when temp falls below 45°F.
- Air Purification: Good
- Toxicity: Non-toxic, but the spines can itch and burn if they stick in the mouth or face.
- Fertilizer: Cactus formula or low-nitrogen liquid at half strength monthly during spring and summer
- Container Friendly: Yes - with proper drainage
- Planting: The best time to repot Bunny Ears is in summer, after it has bloomed (or after its blooming window is closed). Repotting Bunny Ears is quite simple as long as you keep two facts in mind at all times: First, this plant prefers sandy soil that drains very quickly. Secondly, this plant will prick you silly if you’re not careful. To accommodate the first point, choose a clay pot (which allows better evaporation than other materials) and cactus mix or other soil that contains a high percentage of sand, even pebbles. You can also create your own soil by making a 50/50 mix of perlite and potting soil. In light of that second point, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and long sleeves to minimize the chances of glochids getting stuck in your skin. Also, because glochids are deciduous and easily dislodged, consider misting the plant heavily or rinsing it with water to wash away loose glochids. For more advice on what to do if you get stuck anyway, scroll down to “Expert Advice”, below. After repotting, water just a bit more often than usual (but withhold fertilizer) for a few months to help the plant get its roots set.
- Plant Care: Not surprisingly considering it is a cactus, Bunny Ears requires very little water. In the summer, give it a good drink, allow the soil to drain thoroughly, then wait until the soil becomes almost completely dry (not just the top inch, but 2-3 inches down) before watering again. In the winter, when the plant goes dormant, reduce water to just a small sip every 3-4 weeks. Bunny Ears loves a lot of sun and heat during the spring and summer. However, for best flower production (a longshot for indoor specimens), it may help to simulate the cooler seasons by changing things up a bit during the fall and winter. During these times, Bunny Ears prefers temperatures between 50F-65F, even less water, and a bit less sunlight. Speaking of less, you’ll rarely find a plant that requires less fertilizer than Bunny Ears do. Use either a specialized cactus/succulent mix or a low-nitrogen formulation at half strength, and apply it only during the spring and summer months, either once a month or every other watering, whichever is less frequent. Withhold fertilizer entirely during the winter, when Bunny Ears goes dormant. Unlike most tropical plants, Bunny Ears dislikes humidity. In fact,
- Expert Advice: If Opuntia Microdasys starts to look droopy, most gardeners’ instinctive response is to water it more—but don’t listen to that instinct. It might need more water, but there’s a much greater chance the plant actually needs less water and/or better drainage (especially if the paddle tips look shriveled). It may also need more light, especially if the paddles look a bit stretched out.The paddles of Opuntia Microdasys may take on a grayish cast during winter dormancy. This is normal and no cause for alarm. Brown or black spots appear if the plant gets frost-bite or sunburn (less common). The spots are permanent, but addressing the concern will keep new spots from forming. While the plant has few pest or disease problems other than root rot or stem rot (both caused by excess moisture), the rare case of mealybugs or scale insects can be treated with neem oil or rubbing alcohol dabbed in with a cotton ball or swab. Avoid placing Opuntia Microdasys in any sort of draft, cold or warm, which could blow shed glochids in undesired directions. It is always wise to wear gloves and long sleeves when handling Opuntia Microdasys in order to minimize the chances of getting stuck by glochids. If you do get glochids stuck in your skin, especially your hands or fingers, the most important thing to do is to resist spreading them. Do NOT rub your eyes, where glochids can cause legitimate injury. Don’t put the wounded area in your mouth (the way one might do after touching a hot plate), don’t even rub the spot where they’re stuck, even if it itches like crazy. There are a few fairly effective methods of removing glochids from the skin. Tweezers and a magnifying glass are a tried-and-true method. You can also try placing adhesive tape (duct tape, packing tape, etc) over the area, then ripping it off, which should pull many of the glocids with it. Finally, though it is time consuming, some handlers claim to have had success by wrapping the affected area with gauze, soaking the gauze with white or wood glue, allowing the glue to dry, then pulling off the bandage. Glochids aside, propagating Opuntia Microdasys via cuttings is easy. But the process can feel non-intuitive if you’re accustomed to propagating non-cacti. Moist soil, so important to most cuttings, will cause cactus cuttings to rot. Instead, you choose an “ear”, preferably a young-ish one, separate it from the parent plant, and leave it lying on the ground for a week or so the wound can seal. Once that’s done, stick the cut end ¼ inch into the soil (or just leave it lying there to avoid it toppling) and don’t water it beyond an occasional misting of the soil (not the cutting, but the soil itself) until roots begin to grow out on their own. Be patient with this process, because cacti don’t do anything in a hurry. If that just feels too weird and easy, Bunny Ears can also be propagated via seed, though seed can be tricky to germinate and is obviously more difficult to obtain than cuttings.