Brain Cactus Growing and Care

Mammillaria Cristata [Mam-mil-AR-ee-uh, Kris-TAY-tuh] is a succulent plant with a distinctive shape. 

It forms tight clumps of ascending and erect columnar stems, which resemble a brain or worms. 

potted brain cactus (Mammillaria)Pin

This Mammillaria, aka pincushion cactus species, belongs to the family of Cactaceae and is a native to Central Mexico.

The scientific name of this plant is Mammillaria Elongata f. Cristata or Mammillaria Elongata Cristata and its common names include:

  • Brain Cactus
  • Mammillaria
  • Mammillaria Elongata
  • Ladyfinger Cactus
  • Gold Lace Cactus

Brain Cactus Plant Care

Size & Growth

The Brain Cactus is a small plant with tubercles, which grows about 6” inches tall and spreads around 12” inches wide.

They’re sometimes used for bonsai due to their small size.

The unique crested form of this cacti houseplant is because of the damage caused to the young plant. 

The cells of the injured area start multiplying rapidly, which causes the pads of the plant to twist. 

This ‘damage’ is manipulated manually to form this growth.

Flowering and Fragrance

Mammillaria Cristata produces bell-shaped, small, pink flowers. 

The bloom time of these succulents is during the spring, but more flowers may appear later as well. 

Sometimes, the colors of the flowers are also pale yellow, white, or pink with stripes.

Light & Temperature

To maintain the health of the Brain Cactus, place the plant in full sun exposure.

It loves the bright sunlight but also grows well in light shade. 

However, you must be careful during the harsh summertime. 

Avoid leaving it in the sun for more than five hours. 

Otherwise, your cactus will get damaged.  

If you are growing it as an indoor houseplant, then be sure to place it in a bright spot, so it gets sufficient sun. 

The USDA hardiness zone of this plant is 10 to 11.

Watering and Feeding

Sparingly water the plant throughout the summertime. 

However, Cristata will need more frequent watering if the weather is too hot. 

It requires little water during the winter season as this helps in preventing root loss. 

Be cautious with the amount of water since overwatering may lead to rotting.

If the soil mixture is fresh, you don’t have to feed this plant much. 

Feed every summer if you haven’t repotted the plant recently. 

Avoid feeding it after September as it will result in lush growth, which may become fatal for the plant in the cold months.

Soil & Transplanting

The ideal potting mix for the Brain Cactus is the well-draining one. 

You may use a cactus soil mix or a mixture of sand, potting mix, pumice, or perlite. 

Add some organic matter to ensure the plant gets sufficient minerals.

Transplanting should be done after two to three years. 

Be sure to utilize a shallow pot filled with the porous mixture. 

Use the right pot size, which snugly fits the plant and offers good drainage.

Grooming and Maintenance

These succulent plants should be handled carefully as their central spines might injure you. 

Be sure to wear thick gloves when repotting the plant.

It is also sensitive to high moisture, so make sure to place it in a dry place with minimal humidity. 

A higher amount of humidity may damage the plant, just like overwatering. 

When placing the plant on a windowsill, ensure it is partially sunny to prevent burns.

How to Propagate Mammillaria Cristata Plant

The propagation of this plant is done using stem cuttings or grafting. 

This plant is typically grafted onto cacti (column-shaped cactus) but will form its own roots if de-grafted.

  • Take the cuttings from healthy shoots in the summer or spring season. 
  • Cut them with a sterile knife and store them in a dry, warm place for a week or so until the callus formation is witnessed. 
  • Once the callus is formed, insert the cutting in a container filled with soil mixed with a coarse grit layer.
  • Placing the cuttings in the coarse grit protects the ends from getting too wet and encourages root penetration underneath. 
  • It will take two to six weeks for the cuttings to form roots. 

Place big crested pieces on the surface of the soil without completely burying the plant in the soil.

Regularly water the new plant until it is well established.

Mammillaria Cristata Plant Pest or Diseases

This Mammillaria is sensitive to red spiders. Use organic insecticide Neem oil to control the mites. 

It may experience root rot, but it is not a severe issue if you maintain the plant with a controlled watering schedule.

Learn more about Controlling Succulent Pests here.

Brain Cactus Plant Uses

The Brain Cactus makes a great addition as a houseplant. 

It goes well with other succulent plants and other cactus varieties. 

It looks stunning when planted in masses and when growing in different landscapes.

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