Bunny ear cactus, otherwise known as opuntia pallida or opuntia microdasys, is a cactus with rounded, flat paddles. Learn how to care for this classic cactus as a houseplant!
All about bunny ear cactus care
What do you think of when you hear “cactus”? I generally think of classic cactuses like the prickly pear, saguaro, and today’s cactus—the bunny ear cactus. Otherwise known as opuntia pallida or opuntia microdasys.
I’m actually not sure what the most appropriate classification of the plant is. Costa Farms sells the plant and has it labeled opuntia pallida, whereas the Wikipedia page has it labeled opuntia microdasys.
Other pages have it labeled as things like opuntia pallida var. microdasys or opuntia microdasys var. pallida. To keep things easy, we’re going to refer to it as the bunny ear cactus. That’s usually what you’ll see it referred to as anyways.
What is a bunny ear cactus?
The bunny ear cactus is a cactus with pad-like stems that can grow up to several inches wide and tall. They grow off of one another, creating a dense, shrub-like plant as it branches. It is native to northern Mexico, and you can also find it in some spots in the southern United States.
It doesn’t have spines. Instead, it has clusters of glochids, which are hair-like short barbs that grow from the areoles. And they definitely irritate your skin, so handle with thick gloves and keep away from kids and pets!
How much sun does a bunny ear cactus need?
The more, the better! I often sound like a broken record repeating “bright indirect light, too much direct sun will burn the plant.” BUT NOT THIS BAD BOY! Give it as much direct sun as you can.
Put it in your absolute sunniest window. And if you have hot summers, consider moving it outside. Give it increasing amounts of direct outdoor sun to harden it off. It will grow like a weed when summering outside.
Why is my bunny ear cactus growing long and skinny?
The cactus grows by sprouting new pads from the top of older ones. The pads are rounded with a bit of an oval shape. If the pads are beginning to stretch and look longer and more oval-like, it isn’t getting enough light.
The plant is stretching itself to try to reach more sun. You may want to prune off the leggy growth before moving the plant into better lighting conditions.
How often do you water a bunny ear cactus?
The bunny ear cactus is extremely drought tolerant. It stores water in its pads and can go long periods without water. Wait until the soil dries out completely before watering the plant again.
When you water it, make sure you drench the soil. The plant will store moisture in its pads, and the soil will dry out. The easiest way to kill this plant is by giving it too much water.
Generally once every 2 weeks or so in the summer is fine. But if you have it outdoors, monitor it to make sure you don’t need to adjust its care based on excess heat or rain.
How do I know if my bunny ear cactus needs water?
If your cactus begins to look a little pale and deflated, it probably needs water. You may also notice that the pads look a bit wrinkly.
Check the soil—if it’s bone dry, use a fork to break it up. Then give the plant a good drink in the sink. Let all of the excess water drain out of the pot’s drainage holes, and put the plant back in bright light. It should plump back up.
What is the best soil?
Any over-the-counter cactus or succulent soil will work just fine. These soils are a bit different from regular houseplant soils because they usually have more perlite and sand added in.
Perlite and sand help to mimic the poor quality soils this plant is used to in its natural habitat. They prevent the soil from retaining too much water, which can lead to root rot issues.
Another tip is to use an unglazed terracotta pot. Like the kind you can get for cheap at the garden center. The unglazed clay is super absorbent and helps soak up the excess water.
Temperature & humidity needs
The bunny ear cactus can tolerate temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But it also appreciates cooler night temperatures during the winter. My house generally gets down to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night, so that works great.
Cooler temperatures in the winter can also help to encourage flowering, though it’s rare on bunny ears that are exclusively houseplants. The flowers are a few inches big and yellow.
While it enjoys cooler temperatures in the winter, the plant isn’t cold or frost hardy. So if you have it outdoors and you’re in a grow zone where it gets below about 50 degrees at night, I’d bring it inside.
The bunny ear cactus tolerates low humidity levels well, meaning it is perfectly happy with all normal household humidity levels. If you have it outdoors for the spring and summer and live somewhere humid, monitor it for signs of fungal issues.
Is bunny ear cactus safe to have around pets?
I would not recommend letting pets or kids access your bunny ear cactus. The glochids are super sharp and will really irritate the skin. I also don’t even want to think about an animal eating one of the pads!
Can you propagate a bunny ear cactus?
Yes! Propagating a bunny ear cactus is super easy. It’s a great plant to propagate and pass on given both the ease of rooting bunny ear pads and the simple care requirements.
The propagation process is a lot like the prickly pear cactus propagation process. Simply break a pad off of your plant. Let it sit for a day or two while the cut end calluses over.
This is a critical step because if you don’t let the cut end callus over, the cutting will be less able to regulate water intake from the soil and may rot.
Once callused over, plant the cutting in fresh well-draining succulent or cactus soil and set it in a sunny window. There are mixed opinions on watering, but I recommend watering the cutting every 10 days or so to help encourage root growth.
If you can gently pull the cutting and get some resistance (with thick garden gloves on!), the cutting has rooted. Begin watering the plant as normal, letting the soil dry out completely.
How do you take care of a bunny ear cactus in the winter?
The care routine gets even easier in the winter. It will be fine in all normal household temperatures. If you can’t give it the lower winter temperatures because your keep your house warm, it will be totally fine.
You’ll likely need to water the plant much less in the winter, though. When the days are shorter and the temperatures are lower, the plant can go longer before needing water. I water my cacti and succulents about once a month over the winter.
Continue giving the plant as much light as possible. If you notice it is getting leggy and suffering, you can add a grow light. Or you can just wait it out until spring, prune off any leggy growth, and let it resprout healthy new growth in brighter light.