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This striking cactus is a wonderful addition to any garden when planted in a place that suits its few needs. The Opuntia Macrocentra is an upright spreading plant so ideal to cover large areas with an array of purple and green hues, flowers of red and yellow, and deep red edible fruit. It is typified by large pads covered with spines and its color changes with the temperature so it is an interesting addition to any garden.
If you are thinking of getting one of these unique plants, or are trying to grow one already, then this is an article you really need to read.
Opuntia Macrocentra is a slow-growing perennial cactus that will grow between 30 – 120 centimeters in height, 3 meters in width with pads of between 10-20 centimeters long. Each plant generally has about 10 pads and no distinct trunk. It is a type of cactus originally from South Western USA and North-Western Mexico but can be found in many other elevations below 5000 ft such as deserts, rocky hills, and valleys.
It is a strikingly beautiful plant, which is distinctive because of its purple tinge and long spines, the latter being typical of the prickly pear genus.
Cultivars and Hybrids
Opuntia Macrocentra is not a hybrid although hybrids have been formed by crossing this plant with others to form new variations. There are subspecies from the group such as Opuntia Macrocentra var. Minor and Opuntia Violacea.
The great thing about having Opuntia Macrocentra in your garden is that you don’t have to prune it although you may want to cut it back if it starts to spread further than you would like. It is a very hardy plant so can cope with extreme heat although it does not fare so well in very cold temperatures.
This cactus loves desert conditions so ideally needs to be placed somewhere that it will be able to get a lot of sun exposure for it to be at its best. It will grow with some light through so is quite a versatile plant to have in many areas of the garden.
As a desert plant, Opuntia Macrocentra does not need a lot of water so if you are a bit of a forgetful gardener, you will get on just fine with this magnificent cactus.
When you initially plant a prickly pear pad, it is best not to water it for the first month and after that only twice a month for the first year. If you are growing it from a seed, it will need to be kept in the shade and always moist until it germinates.
In terms of heat, Opuntia Macrocentra can be grown well in very hot climates. It is fairly versatile and hardy though so will also grow in cooler countries as long as temperatures do not go below 0 Celcius.
The main soil requirement is that it is alkaline. The Opuntia Macrocentra also prefers well-drained soil as you might expect from a cactus originally found in desert regions.
It will take 3 to 4 years to grow this cactus from a seed to a flowering plant but you can speed this up if you propagate from a pad:
- Use pads that are at least 6 months old
- Once cut from the main plant, allow the pad to form a callous over the cut area
- Once the callous has formed, place in a shallow mixture of half soil and half sand no deeper than 1 inch. You may also like to add a little fertilizer that is high in nitrogen
- Do not water for the first month as there is enough moisture in the pad for the plant to sustain itself
- Your new plant will need some support until its roots are formed so prop it up with something like a rock
- Once it has developed roots, water twice a month allowing the plant to completely dry out in between. Remember, this is a desert plant so overwatering or planting it too deep will cause it to rot
You can grow this plant from seeds but as stated earlier, it will take 3-4 years to mature enough for flowers and fruit so you might not want to wait this long. Planting from a pad, your cactus will be able to flower and bear fruit once it has 3-4 pads and this won’t take too long at all.
You can harvest seeds from the prickly pear fruit:
- Wear gloves when you handle this plant as the spines are sharp and can be painful to touch
- Wash the seeds and remove the pulp
- Pat dry with a paper towel then place somewhere warm until they are completely dry
- The seeds will need to ripen for a year or more before germination so store in an airtight container in a dark cool place
When your seeds are ready to plant:
- Prepare a seed tray with cactus soil
- Water the soil and allow it to drain completely
- Scratch each seed with sandpaper as this will help it to germinate more quickly
- Plant one seed per pot and press into the soil then cover with a fine layer of soil
- Cover the tray with a plastic lid that has a hole in it for ventilation then place on a sunny windowsill until the seeds start to germinate
- Keep the seeds moist using a mist spray
Once the seedlings start to grow, you can transplant them to larger pots and once the roots are well developed, plant them in your garden in well-drained soil making sure they are spaced well as once they start growing, they will each need a radius of about 3 meters to thrive.
As with most cactus, you can propagate other plants using a pad cut from a mature plant. As explained before, this is a really easy way to create new plants to either place in other areas of the garden or give to your friends.
This cactus does not have offsets so to propagate, please follow the instructions above.
Common Pests and Problems
The wonderful thing about the Opuntia Macrocentra is that it really suffers from very few problems and is not a magnet for pests like many other plants. The biggest issue for this beautiful gem of nature is water. If you overwater it, it will start to rot. You will begin to notice that its color starts to change and it will eventually die.
The best thing you can do for this plant to grow well is to make sure it is planted in very well-drained soil in a part of the garden that gets the most sun. It will thrive in these conditions and bring you magnificently colored blooms and delicious fruit for very little in terms of your care and time.
It is exotic and will add texture and a desert glamour to your garden. It is very spiny though, so make sure that if you have young children, it isn’t somewhere that they might go without your supervision as you would not want to be digging out cactus spines from little fingers.
We hope you found this information helpful! If you have experience growing this cactus, or you have some more tips and tricks to keeping it healthy, please let us know about them!