Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bunny Ear Cactus

THE OPTUNTIAS or Bunny Ear cactus is one of the largest and most widely distributed groups of cacti, from Mexico. They vary a lot in shape and size. Optuntia microdasys is a very popular plant. This is a profusely branching species with many flattened oval segments each measuring up to 10-12 cm long, 4-6 cm wide and 1/2 cm thick. The segments are pale or mid-green and spineless, but the areoles, which are spaced close together over the surface of every segment, are golden yellow.
Optuntias do not have leaves in the usual sense, but small, soft textured cylindrical `leaves' sometimes appear on new growth. These soon shrivel and fall off.
In summer the plant produces pale yellow bowl-shaped flowers measuring about 4-5 cm across, often tinged with red or pink hue on the outer side, but these cannot be counted on. Optuntias do not flower indoors (in homes) but may grow very big in the wild and produce magnificent blooms. Optuntia needs as much direct sunlight as they can get throughout the year. Place them in sunny spots outdoors during the growing period. Use good porous garden soil mixed with coarse sand and peat. Re-pot annually. The prickliness of this plant makes this operation difficult. Wrap thick fold of newspaper around the plant to protect your hands.
Propagation is very simple. Remove a stem segment by cutting it with a knife. Allow the detached segment to dry for three days and then insert in the potting mixture. Optuntia is cultivated as a hedge plant and also to decorate gardens, particularly rockeries with large stones. As a houseplant, Optuntia can be kept small if planted in smaller pots.

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