Everything You Need to Know About the Brain Cactus

Everything about the Brain Cactus

This spooky, scary cactus does look like brains! If you put it in a faux human skull planter, you may be able to fool a few people into thinking your Brain Cactus is a natural human brain! Maybe an idea for this Halloween?

OK, we’re just kidding about the real brains thing! The Brain Cactus is bright green, so you probably won’t be fooling anybody with it anytime soon. But it does have curvy stems that wrap and twist around each other into a round shape, so the whole plant does look a lot like a brain.

This unique cactus has a fascinating history and specific care requirements, so if you want to learn more about it, keep reading!

Also, for our new readers that don’t know. We’ve been collaborating with Amazon to provide our readers with amazing deals! Like this one, you can sign up for Amazon Prime for a 30-day FREE trial. How cool is that? Our team is thinking about getting new planters to spice up the office!

Anyways, onwards to the brains…

everything to know about the brain cactus
sunny brain cactus @plant_addiction__

Origins of the Brain Cactus

The Brain Cactus, also known as the Mammillaria ElongataCristata’ cactus, is native to central Mexico. It’s a rare form of the Mammillaria Elongata cactus and has a unique, crested shape. Its growth pattern looks like worms or brains, which is how it got the nickname Brain Cactus.

Mammillaria Elongata cacti are called Ladyfingers and grow nice and straight, but this crested form has stems with lots of kinks that grow in one big round clump. How did that happen?

It didn’t happen through cultivation—it happened through mutation or damage.

All succulents, including cacti, have a center of growth. This center of growth is called the apical meristem. If the apical meristem gets munched on by an insect or damaged somehow, your cactus may start to grow in a wormlike crested shape. Pretty cool, huh?

That’s not the only way that crested cacti can form, though. Sometimes a mutation happens in the cells of a cactus and causes it to become crested. Mutations happen much more rarely, though.

everything to know about the brain cactus
brain cactus @maijamasena

The Brain Cactus Features

This cactus features several narrow ribs, as the name suggests. There can be approximately 100 ribs in a mature plant. Generally, the thick ribs are wavy, but they may also be straight occasionally. There can be 2-3 aureoles with 6 to 9 spines on each rib. The ribs are brown at the base; however, this changes towards the end.

While the lower spines typically point downward, the upper spines tend to be upright, and the overall arrangement of the spines is somewhat crosswise. One of the most flexible species of cacti is the ‘brain cactus’ in terms of shape. No two plants with the same number of ribs, the same supination, or the same shape will be found. The form and flower colors vary in their variations.

Young plants are coated with white felt, so marking them as ‘white’ cacti is very popular for individuals. Stenocactus Crispatus features long spines covering the ribs, Stenocactus Phyllcanthus with stiff spines and yellow flowers, and Stenocactus Coptonogonus with straight ribs and short spines are the most common varieties.

All in all, such a cactus has a spherical shape. It varies from gray-green to deep green in its hue. A more cylindrical shape may also be formed by mature plants, while plants with many stems form a pyramid shape.

A brain cactus is a slow-growing plant that can grow up to 12 cm tall, and it can often have 2 or 3 stems, although it is typically solitary. Brain cactus is known to be a delicate plant. It grows to up to 2,5 cm in diameter are produced by this lovely, wrinkled cactus. Usually, the flowers are pink, purple, or white.

Brain Cactus-How to grow the brain cactus-SC
IG@of_succulents_and_cacti

How To Care for the Brain Cactus Properly

Taking care of a Brain Cactus is easy, but there are a few things you should know, especially regarding propagation. Keep reading if you want to learn how to take care of the fantastic Mammillaria Elongata ‘Cristata’ plant!

The best soil to use for your Brain Cactus

The best cactus soil will be something that drains well, like succulent soil or a homemade soil blend made with potting mix, perlite or pumice, and sand.

We highly recommend this soil mix by Bonsai Jack. It is one of the best soil mixes on the market. It doesn’t need to be mixed with any other soil, it helps fight root rot, is perfectly pH Balanced & is pathogen-free (ie: it won’t kill your plants). This soil is the go-to for our office plants. Go ahead and get the 7 Gallon Bag if you are a plant nerd like us :). Pick up some of our favorite soil by clicking here: Bonsai Jack Succulent Soil.

Repotting the Brain Cactus Safely

When you get your Brain Cactus home from the nursery or in the mail, you’ll probably want to plant it in a new pot.

When you repot this cactus, you have to be careful! It has spines that can hurt you, so put on a thick pair of gardening gloves before you try to pick it up. Once you have your gloves on, grab your new pot and cactus soil and fill it up, leaving some room for the plant and its roots.

Now you’re ready to take your cactus out of its old pot!. Run a trowel around the edges of the pot to loosen up the soil. Gently pick up the cactus and shake as much of the old soil out of the roots as you can. Plant it in the new pot and add more soil around it so that the soil reaches the top of the pot. Hold off on watering it for a few days to give it a chance to acclimate to its new pot.

You should repot your cactus once every two to four years in the spring. If you see its roots peaking out of the drainage hole, that’s a definite sign that it’s outgrowing its pot and needs to be replanted!

everything to know about the brain cactus
up close and personal @stringofplants

Brain Cactus water requirements for ideal growth

Most cacti don’t require a lot of water, and the Brain Cactus is no exception. Excess water can get in the folds of this crested cactus and rot it quite quickly, so you have to be careful when watering it! Make sure you don’t get water on the body of your Brain Cactus. We like to use a small watering can and point the spout at the soil, not the plant.

We use the “soak and dry” method to water our cacti, so we keep pouring water onto the soil until water runs out of the pot’s drainage hole. Then we wait until the soil is completely dry to the touch before watering again.

I know what you’re thinking. Soaking my cactus with water? Won’t that cause it to rot?

ALSO READ:

everything to know about the brain cactus
brain cactus in yellow pot @omniasucculents

Cacti have a reputation for needing very little water, so I understand why you think that! But this watering method mimics the weather patterns in their native environment, the desert, so it keeps them nice and healthy.

Deserts get periods of heavy rain followed by long periods of intense drought. Cacti soak up all the water they can during those heavy rains and then dry out during the drought, drawing on their water reserves to keep themselves hydrated.

Soaking them mimics those heavy desert rains, and drying them out mimics the drought. They love this watering method, so try it out!

As for frequency, we soak out cacti once every one or two weeks during the summer and then cut back to once every four to six weeks during the winter.

everything to know about the brain cactus
potted brain cactus @succiexhi

How much sunlight does a Brain Cactus need?

Like most cacti, this one likes bright, direct sunlight. With that being said, you shouldn’t leave it in the hot summer sunshine for more than four hours. If you do, your cactus could get scorched!

When growing this cactus indoors, you should put it near the brightest window in your home to ensure it gets enough sunlight. Having some sort of window sill planter will make it look pretty too!

The ideal temperature for Brain Cactus growth

Unfortunately, the Brain Cactus isn’t cold hardy, so you’ll have to bring it inside for the winter. It can’t handle even a light frost, so bring it indoors at the start of fall.

everything to know about the brain cactus
pretty in pink @pottheadluver

Does a Brain Cactus need any fertilization?

Sure thing! You should try fertilizing your Brain Cactus about once a month during its growing season in the spring and summer. A water-soluble cactus fertilizer like this one is a great choice.

If you want more options, be sure to ask some of our green thumbs in the Succulent City Plant Lounge.

Humidity

The brain cactus is most susceptible to moisture as a succulent from arid regions. It is best to keep them in a dry place with little humidity. Excess humidity can cause the plant as much harm as too much water can do. Remember that most of the year, the area they hail is dry and marked by a brief drenching rainy season.

Since Brain Cactus is highly sensitive to moisture, it is advisable to place it in a location with minimal humidity. Placing your plant in higher humidity locations can damage it. You may place your plant by the windowsill or in a partially sunny area.

After the rain, the plants do most of their growth and bloom, followed by a prolonged growth rate, almost in hibernation, before the next rainy season. Place the container in a partly sunny position where the plant will not burn the brightest noon-day rays. Until watering, allow the surface of the soil to dry to the touch. Feed with a dilution of the cactus food in spring.

This spooky, frightful cactus looks like a brain! It is easy to trick a few people into believing your Brain Cactus is an actual human brain if you place it in a faux skull planter!

Propagating the Brain Cactus the Right Way

Propagating Mammillaria Elongata ‘Cristata’ is a lot different from propagating other cacti and succulents, in case you’ve read our most popular propagation guide. But because it’s crested, you’ll have to get a little creative with your propagating techniques to preserve its unique shape.

This plant does produce offsets that can be divided and replanted, but we’ve heard that these offsets usually have a normal growth pattern that’s more like the Mammillaria Elongata. You may get lucky, though normal-looking offsets can become crested as they grow, so don’t pluck them off your plant and throw them out. Try and replant them and see if they become crested as they mature!

You can also propagate the Brain Cactus from cuttings, but those cuttings should be grafted onto another cactus for best results. Grafting is kind of like creating a Frankenstein cactus. You cut off the head of one cactus, take a cutting from another, and mush them together to make one brand new cactus!

It sounds weird, but it works! If you put a cutting from your Brain Cactus on top, the new cactus will have the same characteristics and crested shape, which can’t be said for other methods of propagation.

Grafting works best if the two plants you use are closely related genetically. So, if you can get your hands on a Mammillaria Elongata, you should graft your Brain Cactus onto that. If you can’t find a cactus that’s the same species as your Brain Cactus, then just try to use a cactus that’s in the same genus.

everything to know about the brain cactus
outdoor garden @arelys_succulent_shack

Propagation by grafting

To begin, cut the body of your Mammillaria Elongata with a grafting knife. Make sure that the part of the cactus that’s still in the soil is at least a few inches long. Discard or set aside the top part of the cactus that’s no longer attached—you won’t need it.

Then, take a stem cutting from your Brain Cactus that’s at least one inch long and put it on top of the Mammillaria Elongata.

On the cut side of both of your cacti, you’ll see a ring—at least part of those two rings need to overlap in order for this to work. So when you layer your Brain Cactus cutting on top of the Mammillaria Elongata plant, make sure that they line up.

Grab some rubber bands and use them to hold the two pieces in place. You can wrap the rubber bands around the pot as well to better secure them. In about two months, the pieces will be joined and you’ll be able to remove the rubber bands!

In the meantime, continue to care for the plant just like you would any other cactus. There’s a small risk of infection and a chance that your graft will fail, but it’s a pretty reliable way to create a new cactus if you use species that are closely genetically related.

everything to know about the brain cactus
beautiful brain @cactusky9

Common Pests and Diseases

Like other succulents, your Brain Cactus might be prone to root rot disease due to poor watering schedule and practice. The watering schedule is crucial to your plant’s health, as most succulents do not survive after experiencing overwatering. Aside from root rot, your Brain Cactus is also prone to Anthracnose. This disease occurs in an environment with poor air circulation or high temperature or humidity. Having black spots is among the early signs of Anthracnose. In case you are sure that your Brain Cactus has this disease, it is advisable to isolate the diseased plant to avoid affecting the others. After isolating, it is also better to cut off the affected part.

In terms of pests, among the common ones are spider mites and aphids. Spider mites can be easily detected by checking on your plant’s leaves. In case you notice some leaves turning red or yellow, unfortunately, they might be infested by spider mites. To avoid having this pest on your Brain Cactus, make sure to maintain good ventilation. You can prevent this type of pest using an organic insecticide neem oil. For aphids, same with spider mites, your plant may experience discoloration. Yellowing and distorted leaves are common signs that your plant has aphids. You may flash out this pest by flowing watering or spraying a mild insecticide on your Brain Cactus. It is imperative to avoid using too potent an insecticide as it might damage your plant.

The Brain Cactus is greenish, so you’re not going to fool anyone anytime soon with it. But it does have curvy stems that wrap and twist into a circular shape around each other, so the entire plant looks a lot like a brain. This distinctive cactus has a fascinating history, and some particular criteria for how to care for and grow it will help you get the best out of your plant choice.

Final Words

Well, that’s everything we know about the Brain Cactus! We hope that this post has given you the confidence you need to grow this awesome little succulent. It’s not hard, we promise!

Is this plant going on your wishlist? Let us know in the comments below!

Loved learning about this succulent and now inspired to add more to your collection?! (We don’t blame you) Check out Succulent City’s new line of ebooks covering topics from, “All the Types of Succulents for Indoor and Outdoor,” “Different Types of Planters,” and many more helpful in-depth ebooks. Head to this link to view our full line of ebooks and get started with our complimentary guide.  Happy planting!

5 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About the Brain Cactus

  1. Can you plant the cactus in a garden or does it have to be in a pot?

    I propagated the cactus and it isn’t curling at all can I
    do anything to make it curl?

    Great info thank you

  2. My Brain Cactus has begun withering on one side. It is the side that has been facing away from the window. Is this due to getting less direct light? Will simply turning the plant regularly heal/prevent this?

  3. Hi; so I am still not clear on this: if I want my cristata/brain cactus to grow just like it is (meaning no straight growth) all i would have to do is with new growth if it turns out to be straight pluck it out? But there is a big chance that the new growth will also be in the cristata form. Thanks.

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