Growing Epithelantha Micromeris: Guide To Button Cactus Care

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Miniature cacti have become increasingly popular in recent years, and Epithelantha micromeris (ep-ith-el-LAN-tha my-kroh-MER-is) is among those rising stars.

A perennial of the Cactaceae family, it has the broadest native range of its seven siblings, spanning Arizona, New Mexico, northeastern Mexico, and Texas.

ping pong ball cactusPin

In botanical circles, it’s sometimes referred to as Epithelantha micromeris var. micromeris or Mammillaria micromeris, although several common names, including: more commonly know it

  • Button Cactus
  • Híkuli mulato
  • Living Rocks
  • Mulatto
  • Ping Pong Ball Cactus
  • Tapone

A relatively easy cactus to grow, it can still be a little more difficult than many other succulents due to its tiny size and long lifespan.

Epithelantha Button Cactus Care

Size & Growth

These tiny, slow-growing cacti have a small, rounded stem that tends to measure 2” inches tall and just over 1 ½” inches wide.

However, older plants may begin to cluster through offshoots, resulting in much larger clumps of as many as 100 heads.

They’re notable for having a thick layer of radial grey to white spines that nearly block out all traces of the green skin underneath.

Despite its tiny size, this dwarf cactus has a long taproot.

Flowering and Fragrance

Mulatto generally blooms between February and April, producing tiny pale pink flowers or sometimes pinkish-yellow, red, or white.

Measuring up to ½” inch across, the blooms occur atop the cactus on the previous year’s growth amidst a path of wool, resulting in a ring or halo of flowers.

The flowers give way to fruits that elongate vertically and become a bright red color once ripe.

Both the flowers and fruit are edible.

Light & Temperature

When planted outdoors, these little cacti prefer full sun, requiring at least 8 hours of exposure per day.

The plant adapts quickly to partial shade or dappled sunlight in tropical regions where the sun can get particularly harsh.

Indoors, a sunny window is ideal and generally requires no shade.

NOTE: The plant is susceptible to fungal infections when the humidity rises about 80% percent, so aim for a spot where it will get low to moderate humidity levels.

While it can handle temperatures cooler than tropical succulents, this subtropical plant is still considered cold intolerant and will die if exposed to temperatures of 15° degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Outdoors, Epithelantha may be planted in USDA hardiness zones 8b to 11b.

Indoors, aim for a temperature range of 64 to 79° degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering and Feeding

This plant can be hypersensitive to standing water, even more so than other succulents.

For this reason, it’s best to stick to the soak-and-dry method and take the term more literally.

Allow the soil to dry completely before watering (you can check via the drainage holes).

Using room temperature rainwater or distilled water, slowly pour, so the soil has time to soak it up and stop when you see seepage from the drainage holes.

Pause watering during winter, so the plant has a chance to rest.

Another difference from most succulents is that button cacti need very little fertilizer.

You should feed it at least once per year using a mild, balanced liquid fertilizer.

However, you may choose to feed it once per season, pausing in winter for optimal growth.

Soil & Transplanting Ping Pong Ball Cactus

Your ping pong ball cactus needs a soil with more sand than many other succulents.

Add some coarse sand or gravel to your favorite cactus potting mix to ensure plenty of air pockets.

A neutral pH is preferred for optimal growth but not necessary.

Button cacti rarely need repotting, although you may wish to do so once every three or so years during the summer.

It requires a deep container due to its long taproot.

Be sure the soil has completely dried out before sliding the cactus and its soil out of the pot.

Gently knock all excess dirt from the roots and remove any diseased roots with a sharp, sterile knife.

You’ll want to treat any cuts with fungicide due to the plant’s sensitivity to water.

Finally, place the cactus into the pot and backfill fresh soil over the roots a little bit at a time, spreading the roots out as you go.

Avoid watering for a week to reduce the risk of root rot setting in.

Grooming And Maintenance

This plant requires no maintenance, although you may choose to remove pups for propagation purposes.

How To Propagate Tapone

The fruits contain small black seeds that may be harvested and sown, although the more popular propagation method is by dividing the pups.

Ping Pong Ball Cactus Pests or Diseases

While somewhat drought-tolerant, this plant is highly sensitive to standing water and easily develops fungal infections or rot.

It has very few pests, although both succulent mealybugs and nematodes can become problematic.

The plant itself is non-toxic to humans and pets, although the spines may cause some skin irritation.

Epithelantha Micromeris Uses

Button cacti are perhaps best known for being easy to care for houseplants that look great in containers and hanging baskets.

However, they are also perfect for rock gardens and as part of a cactus or succulent collection.

The fruit and flowers are edible, giving the plant more than a simple visual appeal.

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