Everything You Need to Know About the Brain Cactus

Everything about the Brain Cactus


This spooky, scary cactus really 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 real human brain! Maybe an idea for halloween 2019?

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 an interesting history and some 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 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 kind of 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 in them that grow in one big round clump. How did that happen?

It didn’t happen through cultivation—it actually 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

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 when it comes to propagation. Keep reading if you want to learn how to take care of the amazing Mammillaria Elongata ‘Cristata’ plant!

The best soil to use for your Brain Cactus

The best cactus soil is going to 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, perfectly pH Balanced & is pathogen-free (ie: 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 plant nerd like us :). Pick up some of our favorite soil by clicking here: Bonsai Jack Succulent Soil.

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10/27/2021 08:52 am GMT

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 that 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 drainage hole of the pot. 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?


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

Cacti have a reputation for needing very little water, so I totally understand why you think that! But this watering method actually 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.

So 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 really 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.

If you don’t quite understand the difference between hardy or soft plants, be sure to take a detour here.

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.

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 create 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

Let’s begin

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

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 complementary guide. 

Happy planting! ?

All you need to know about the Brain Cactus

All you need to Know about the Brain Cactus
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Brain Cactus on Girl Planter: IG@kittiyawathanakorn

The Brain Cactus first originated from the Central Mexican region. It’s essentially a rare form of cactus which is related to the Mammillaria Elongata plant family.  The Brain Cactus, also called the Mammillaria Elongata ‘Cristata, has a peculiar crested shape.

Perhaps contributing to its name, the plant looks a bit like worms or brains. The Brain Cactus is also identified closely with Ladyfingers. This is because it usually grows straight. The crested type of cactus features lots of kinks that develop in a big round clump. This characteristic is attributed to mutation or damage.

Brain Cactus, like other succulents, have a peculiar center of growth. This is known as the apical meristem. If an insect munches or damages this apical meristem, the cactus might grow in a crested, worm-like shape. Also, a mutation can take place in the cells, thus making it crested. However, this is rare.

All you need to Know about the Brain Cactus
The Brain Cactus by: IG@sanctuarysoil

Caring for the Brain Cactus and Propagation Processes

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Brain Cactus Propagation: IG@potofsucculents

It’s easy to care for the Brain Cactus. You merely need to know a few propagation matters. It’s essential to identify the best soil for the cactus. Such soils drain well, just like a home-made blend of soil or succulent soil made with sand, perlite, pumice, or potting mix.

When you deliver your brain cactus from the nursery, it’s advisable to plant it in a fresh, new pot. It’s also essential to repot the brain cactus periodically. The cactus has spines that could hurt; therefore, do this carefully. Wear some thick gardening gloves for protection. Then, grab your new cactus soil and get ready to repot.

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Reptting Brain Cactus: IG@dr.cacto

How to Repot and Replant the Brain Cactus Periodically

After getting the plant from the old pot, use a trowel to run around the new pot’s edges. This loosens up the soil. Pick up the cactus gently, shaking out as much soil as possible from the roots. Plant the cactus in the new pot, adding more soil until it reaches the top. Fill-up the pot. Leave a little room for your plant and its roots. Do not water the pot for a few days. This allows it to acclimatize to the new pot.

Ensure you repot your cactus in the spring at least once in two to four years. If you discover the roots are coming out of the drainage hole, it’s a sign that the plant is outgrowing its pot and requires replanting.

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Over Watered Brain Cactus: IG@sucusmaria

Use Little Water with Brain Cactus for Ideal Growth

The Brain Cactus doesn’t require plenty of water. Too much water gets into the crested cactus folds and precipitates the rotting process. Hence, take care when watering. Ensure there’s no water on the cactus’ body. Use a smaller watering vessel. Make the spout point at the soil rather than the plant.

When watering the cactus, it’s advisable to use the recommended soak and dry method. Thus, keep pouring water on the soil until it runs out of the pot’s drainage hole. Let the soil dry out completely before resuming the watering process.

This is all you need to know about the fascinating Brain Cactus.

Brain Cactus

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Brain Cactus Images: @sanctuarysoil

Getting enough of the succulent plant is still a mystery to many.  We love to write about and collect these cool potted goodies, whether they are regular  ‘ones or those with an exceptional exotic theme. Now we have something for Halloween that sets the mood perfectly. This terrifying plant is a sure-to-go decoration for your Halloween, and just looking at it will tell you why. The Mammillaria Elongata ‘Cristata’ cactus looks like a human brain, with stems that circularly curl around each other. Or a clump of worms, still.

What’s there in a name? A fascinating plant in the case of the brain cactus, but with a very descriptive name. The type known as brain cactus is one of the many species of Mammillaria Cristata. It is a simple cactus to grow that often produces lovely little blooms in warmer climates and makes a perfect houseplant or outdoor specimen. 

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What is brain cactus?

The brain cactus is also colorfully called Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’ due to its convoluted and sinuous development. How the form happens is one of the most bizarre pieces of data from Cristata. When it is young, the shape is a result of damage to the plant. The cells go wild at the injury site and grow at a much faster pace than average. This triggers the distorted design of the pads.

The brain cactus is a common houseplant, and this “damage” is manually manipulated in cultivation to produce fan-like growth. In general, the brain cactus is a small plant, just 6 inches (15 cm.) in height. With waistband widths of 12 inches (30 cm.) across, they are chubby little boys.

They occur in rocky outcroppings and between crevasses in the wilds of Central Mexico. They grow into a column of stems and tiny offsets over time. The spines are in tightly collected areoles and consist of several sizes, almost hair-like with the finest spines. Plants are green, but the hairy spines form a grayish shell.

The origin of the brain cactus

The straight growth habit of Mammillaria elongata cacti, commonly known as lady’s fingers. The crested type, however, shows stems with lots of kinks growing in one big, round clump. A mutation or probably physical injury is thought to be the cause of this trait.

Every succulent has a center of growth called the apical meristem, including cacti. The cactus can begin to develop in a wormlike form if the apical meristem is chewed by an insect or somehow harmed. In the cells of a cactus, though uncommon, often a mutation occurs and causes it to become crested.

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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 are 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.

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How to grow the brain cactus

You may immediately assume that you understand all about succulent treatment. But you may realize that you don’t know how to grow a brain cactus. Most cacti are susceptible to overwatering and poor drainage, but brain cactus pads can trap moisture in the folds and crevasses. In agriculture, where gnats are attracted, this can be evil, and mold and mildew problems can instill rot and destroy the plant.

To avoid moisture from accumulating on the body of a brain cactus, it is best to water from the jar’s base. There are some simple methods if you wish to propagate the plant. It is using woody stem cuttings to allow for a week of callus over the cut edge. Then insert the cut end into the potting medium without soil, like the moderately moistened sand.

The other approach is a clean, sterile knife to separate the pups away from the parent plant. Each should also be permitted to callus and plant it into a mixture of cactus. It results in faster establishment and faster blooms to grow a brain cactus from pups.

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Image by: @succiesco

How to care for your brain cactus

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 from which they hail is dry and then marked by a brief drenching rainy season.

After the rain, the plants then 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 human skull planter!

The Brain Cactus is greenish, so you’re definitely 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 and how to grow it will help you get the best out of your plant choice.

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Image by: @humblejungle.au