Cactus lovers are always in pursuit of unique cacti and their hunt may take them to fishhook cacti which characteristically contain spines similar to fishhook. What’s more, these spines can actually be used to catch fish too! However, fishhook cacti form an extensive group made of around 150 species belonging to 3 genera, vi. Mammillaria, Echinomastus and Sclerocactus. Today we’ll take a look at the cacti in the genus Mammillaria as cacti in this genus are extremely beautiful and any cactus lover would wish to have them in their collection.
Mammillaria is one of the most extensive genera in the family Cactaceae made of around 200-300 species most of which are native to Mexico and some originating in the southwestern US, the Caribbean, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala. As mentioned above, the plants in the Mammillaria genus are commonly known as fishhook cactus because of their characteristic spines shaped like fishing hooks. These plants are also known as Nipple Cactus, Bird’s Nest Cactus and Pincushion Cactus.
The name Mammillaria is a Latin word meaning ‘nipple’ or ‘teat’ due to their distinctive nipple-shaped tubercles.
Mammillaria are small-sized cacti with short cylindrical or globose stems which grow either singly or in clumps. Their diameter varies from 0.4 to 8 inches (1 to 20 cm) and height varies from 0.4 to 16 inches (1 to 40 cm). Some species grow to form mounds containing more than 100 stems the dimeter of which can be more than 3.3 feet (1 meter).
The characteristic tubercles are spirally arranged and have spines and areoles at the end in all species. The tubercles may be round, cylindrical, pyramidal or conical in shape. Spines can be few or several, and are stiff, hair-like or bristle-like. The axils between the tubercles contain bristles, wool or both.
Mammillaria flowers are beautiful and come in a great range of colors like pink, red, yellow, greenish and white. They often contain a mid-stripe. They are funnel-shaped and range from 0.3 to 1.6 inches (0.7 to 4 cm) in diameter and around the same in length. Usually Mammillaria start blooming in their second year, generally forming a ring around the stem.
Fruits are usually bright red, but sometimes can be green, magenta, white or yellow. They are elongated or club-shaped. Seeds are black or brown.
Mammillaria are considered non-toxic for humans as well as animals.
What are the Right Growing Conditions for Mammillaria?
If you’ve grown cacti and succulents successfully so far, you may grow most Mammillarias with no problem. Still, the species need certain growing conditions to perform well.
Mammillarias love intense light, but many of them don’t like direct sun in the summer for too long. You can plant them in a location which receives direct sunlight for 4 hours a day. While growing them indoors, you should place them near the brightest window of your home or office to make sure they receive sufficient sunlight. Place the containers in the balcony or garden from spring to fall for extra light. Sun exposure should be increased slowly to prevent sunburn.
Mammillarias need a soil mix with good drainage and aeration, whether you grow them indoors or outdoors. You can use commercial cactus potting mix or can create your own by using 70 to 80% mineral grit such as perlite, pumice or coarse sand.
Although they are not cold-hardy, Mammillarias are heat tolerant. They perform well with temperatures between 70- and 80-degree F (21- and 27-degree C). When in the winter they go dormant, they prefer cooler temperatures between 45- and 55-degree F (7- and 13-degree C). They can survive short exposures to many degrees below freezing temperature. However, you should never grow them in the ground in harsh weather conditions. If your area receives temperature below 30 degree F (-1.1 degree C), you are better off growing Mammillarias in containers that can be brought indoors.
Container for Mammillarias should be 10% wider than the plant and should have drainage holes. Mammillarias can grow happily in a 4 to 6 inch (10 to 15 cm) wide pot for years.
Repot your Mammillaria every 2 to 3 years into a slightly larger container. The best time for this is late winter or early spring. However, repotting can be done virtually any time of the year. The soil should be dry. Don’t water for around a week after repotting to protect the plant from root rot.
Propagation of Mammillarias can be done in two easy ways: by seeds or by dividing offsets.
Growing Mammillarias from seeds is a fun way to grow your collection. The seeds should be sown in a pot with a well-drained soil mix in late spring or summer. The container should be placed in a sunny location and soil should be kept moist until the seeds sprout. If the temperature ranges from 70 to 80-degree F (21 to 27 degree C), seeds usually germinate in a week or two. Seedlings will be ready the following spring to transplant into their own containers.
Clusters of offsets readily develop around the bottom of the mother plant. Remove them carefully with a sharp sterile knife, tongs or razor blade. Spring or summer is the best time to remove offsets. Allow the cut to callous over for many days before placing the offset in a container with well-draining soil.
Taking Care of Mammillarias
Mammillarias are not only popular for their beauty but also for their ease of maintenance. These are ideal cacti for beginners.
You should water your Mammillarias deeply from spring to fall. However, let the soil dry out between waterings. Never let the plant sit in water. Stop watering in the winter.
Fertilize your Mammillarias during the growing season. Due to the fertilizer, the plant will thrive and bloom. Water soluble fertilizer designed for cacti and succulents should be applied. You can even use a houseplant fertilizer higher in phosphorous than nitrogen like a 5-10-5 solution. Stop fertilizing during the winter when Mammillarias are dormant.
Pests and Diseases
Mammillarias are in general disease resistant but are susceptible to pests like scales and mealybugs.
Scales and mealybugs both suck plant juice and damage Mammillarias. They have a white, waxy, cotton-like appearance and can hide easily among the plant’s spines without being seen. The root mealybugs are even more difficult to spot because they are below the soil surface and look like white deposits on the rotos.
Scales too are hard to spot. Both these pests spared quickly from plant to plant.
One way to control them is to use cotton swabs dipped in alcohol. Spraying the plant with 70% rubbing alcohol my also help to control invisible pests.
Diseases in homegrown Mammillarias mostly occur from bacteria or fungi due to overwatering. Only way to control the spread of the disease is to remove the affected parts. Once Mammillaria is fully damaged, it’s impossible to treat it.
Whether you’re a beginner or a cactus pro, if you don’t have a Mammillaria you should have one, because without these colorful beauties, your collection may remain incomplete.