Pincushion Cactus (Mammillaria spp.)

Whether you‘re a seasoned succulent fan or someone just starting out, you may have been considering adding a pincushion cactus (Mammillaria spp.) to your collection.

As members of the terrarium succulent family, they offer an interesting and hardy option when it comes to vivariums and indoor gardening.

In this article, we‘ll take a look at the pincushion cactus and all its benefits.

Quick Stats:
Scientific Name Mammillaria spp.
Common Name Pincushion cactus, nipple cactus
Family Name Cactaceae
Habitat Desert
Temperature 70°F to 95°F
Height 5 to 8 inches
pH 5.5 to 7.5
Lighting Bright

What is Pincushion Cactus?

Mammillaria spp. is a species of cactus that originates in Mexico, as well as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the United States.

This cactus has several names such as pincushion cactus or nipple cactus.

These are based on the unique needle-like projections that extend from its stem.

The cactus has various shapes and sizes it can grow in, from dome-like shapes to rounded narrow columns.

Mammillaria spp. "Pincushion Cactus" Care Guide | Terrarium Cacti

Pincushion Cactus Facts

Mammillaria spp. is an extremely slow-growing cactus and you’ll want to make sure the temperature and light are just right.

Being a desert cactus, the pincushion cactus enjoys direct sunlight and, in the right conditions, can survive temperatures as high as 95°F.

It grows best if kept in the shade during hotter months.


The pincushion cactus is a small, round-shaped cactus, with needle-like spikes that grow from its stem.

It can have a height of up to 8 inches and grow an array of colors, from yellow or green to bright orange and red.

Growing from the middle of the pads are white bumps, which will produce red or yellow flowers if grown in the right environment.


This plant is suited for hotter temperatures and can survive temperatures up to 95°F if given the proper care.

It is best to provide direct sunlight for half of the day for optimal growth.

Pincushion cacti are found in the deserts of Mexico, particularly in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

They can also be found in parts of the southwestern United States, including Arizona and New Mexico.

pH Preference

Mammillaria spp. likes pH levels that are mainly found in the desert environment.

It tends to grow best if the pH levels are kept around 5.5 to 7.5.

When choosing a substrate or potting mix, be sure it is formulated specifically for cacti, as this type of plant prefers airy, well-drained soil.

Vivarium Type

The pincushion cactus is quite an easy-going species.

With that in mind, it will not be too complicated when it comes to choosing the type of enclosure it is grown in.

It is best to try and replicate the plant’s natural habitat as much as possible.

Doing so will make it easier to provide this succulent plant with its basic needs.

The proper setup and theme of the enclosure will make a big difference to the overall look and health of the plant.

Here are recommended vivariums it will do well in:

    • Terrariums – Fully terrain-based enclosures with little to no aquatic features.

Vivarium Placement

This cactus is best placed on top of the substrate since it has shallow roots and doesn’t need soil deeper than 1 inch.

The substrate should be well-draining so that excess water can flow off the pot or out of the vivarium.

Place the cactus in your enclosure near the back or higher up, providing it with direct sunlight for a few hours a day.


Mammillaria spp. prefers airy, well-drained terrarium soil, and cacti substrate makes an excellent choice.

Coco fiber soil or sand can also be used, with a few inches of drainage gravel at the bottom of the pot or enclosure.

To ensure a good drainage layer, make sure to fill it with enough material to hold stagnant water clear from the substrate.


Being a desert dweller, the pincushion cactus is used to living in very hot temperatures.

Provide it with a terrarium light source that mimics a sunny day in the wild; LED office lamps or LED CFL bulbs work best.

But make sure that the lighting used does not generate too much UV or heat that can cause the moss to dry up and die.

Buy Pincushion Cactus

When it comes to buying pincushion cactus, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Making sure the plant is healthy when purchased is essential for its success in a vivarium.

Vegetation that is already in poor conditions will have a very hard time adjusting to new environments.

Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info about this plant.

Pincushion Cactus Care and Propagation

The best way to propagate Mammillaria spp. is by stem cuttings. Carefully remove a healthy stem from the mother plant, just below a node.

Plant it in a pot with the same type of substrate that was used previously, and water lightly every few days (the soil should remain slightly dry).

Eventually, the cutting will grow roots and start to produce new stems.


Mammillaria spp. is drought tolerant and prefers to grow in dry conditions.

When watering, make sure the soil is more on the dry side, but do not let it dry out completely.

It is best to water once every other week, especially between the growing seasons of mid-spring and mid-summer.

Plants Similar to Pincushion Cactus

Adding diversity to an enclosure is key to an aesthetically pleasing setup. Try mixing up the look of your vivarium with different flora that can easily co-exist in the same environment.

Furthermore, if for some reason you find the pincushion cactus hard to acquire or would like to consider something similar to this plant…

Here are other succulents you might find will do well with or in the place of Mammillaria spp.:

Sempervivum tectorum "Hens and Chicks" Terrarium Care Guide
Sedum Spp. "Stonecrop" Care Guide | Terrarium Succulents
Kalanchoe tomentosa "Panda Plant" Care Guide | Terrarium Succulents


My overall opinion on the pincushion cactus is that it can be a great accent terrarium plant for desert-themed vivariums.

Not only does it look great but it’s also easy to care for and can provide a great hide for smaller insects and animals.

As long as the environment is properly maintained and the cactus is given the right amount of light, it should stay healthy for a long time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pincushion cactus typically flowers once a year, usually in the spring and summer months.

Yes, pincushion cactus fruit is edible. The fruit is typically eaten raw and has a sweet and tangy flavor. It can also be cooked or used in jams and jellies.

A pincushion cactus is a type of plant that has a rounded, globular shape. It is covered in clusters of sharp thorns which look similar to pins, hence the name. The cactus typically grows to about six inches in height and its thorns can range from white to pink to brown in color. The flowers that bloom on the pincushion cactus are usually yellow, white, or pink.

Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria spp.) can be found in desert habitats in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Sonora.

No, pincushion cactus is not poisonous. Its small sharp spines may cause minor skin irritation, but the plant itself does not contain any toxins and is not considered dangerous.

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