Brain Cactus – Tiny, Green Brain that will Amaze You

If you’re looking for a unique cactus, there are many options to consider. Among these, a prominent name is brain cactus. You may wonder why this cactus is named so, but after having a look at it, your doubt will be cleared. You might have seen the diagram of human brain several times. When you look at brain cactus, you may feel that you’re looking at a human brain, only difference being the cactus is green in color. It’s fun to plant it in a container shaped like human skull. This is a scary Halloween decoration!

What is Brain Cactus?

One of the several species of Mammillaria, elongata Cristata is the one which is known as brain cactus. It’s a rare form of M. elongata which normally grows straight. Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’ is called brain cactus because of its longwinded and twisting growth. The reason behind its unique shape is actually a damage to the plant in its young age. The cells at the site of injury start cresting i.e., multiplying crazily at a much faster rate than normal which leads to the twisted shape of the pads.

Brain cactus is commonly grown and the ‘damage’ is manually caused to create the particular beautiful structure.

Brain cactus is typically a small plant, growing only up to 6 inches (15 cm) of height and 12 inches (30 cm) of width.
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In nature, it occurs in Central Mexico between crevasses and in rocky outcroppings. In the long run, they form a column of stems and small offsets. It has closely gathered areoles in which there are spines which are of various sizes. The finest spines resemble hair. Although the plant is green, the hairy spines are grayish.

How to Grow Brain Cactus?

Brain cactus can be a great indoor plant, but can thrive outside only in the United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and 11. As it’s so tiny, you can try growing it in a succulent dish with a combination of forms and textures, or in succulent soil or a homemade soil mix made from potting mix, sand and pumice or perlite. It can bloom anywhere in summer and the lovely little flowers will brighten up the container even more.

While most cacti are sensitive to overwatering and poor drainage, brain cactus will trap moisture in its folds and crevasses. Still, this can be bad in cultivation because it can attract gnats, mold and mildew which can instill rot and kill the plant. Therefore, it’s ideal to water the plant from the base of the container to prevent any moisture from accumulating on the body of the cactus. Another way is to water from a small can with its spout pointed towards the soil and not on the body of the plant.


You can propagate brain cactus with some easy methods.

Firstly, you can use woody stem cuttings and let the cut ends to callus over for a week. Then you can insert the cut end into soilless potting mix, such as lightly wetted sand.

Another way is to detach the pups from the parent plant with a clean, sterile knife, and allow each to callus over. Then they should be planted into cactus mixture. This method is a quicker way for establishment and quicker blooms.

How to Take Care of Brain Cactus?

Brain cactus, being native to arid regions, need to be placed in a dry spot with little humidity. Excessive moisture can damage the plant.

Think of the region they hail from which is dry most of the year and then receives a short drenching rainy season. The cactus does the most of its growth and bloom after the rain and is followed by a quite slow growth rate, almost like hibernation, till the next rainy season.

Place the brain cactus container in a partially sunny spot where the brightest afternoon rays can’t burn the plant. Make sure the surface of the soil is dry to touch before watering. Cut the amount of water to half in winter. Feed the plant in spring with a diluted cactus food.


You need to be careful while repotting brain cactus as its spines may hurt you. Wear a pair of thick gardening gloves while repotting. Fill your new pot with new cactus soil, leaving some space for the plant and its roots. Run a trowel around the borders of the pot to loosen up the soil. Pick up the cactus gently and shake to remove as much of the old soil out of the roots as possible. Place it in the new pot. Add more soil around the cactus so as to fill the pot completely. Hold on watering for a few days to give the plant a chance to acclimate in the new soil and pot.

Repotting should be done once every 2 to 4 years in the spring. A definite sign that it needs repotting is its roots peeking out from the drainage holes as it shows that it’s outgrowing the old pot.

Brain cactus can be an amazing addition to your cactus collection. It’s not only a unique cactus but can be a decorative element, especially during Halloween, when planted in a skull-shaped container, as mentioned earlier. Bring home this tiny green brain and make your guests awe!

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