Family: Cactaceae
Habitat: High altitude zones in Argentina and Chile.
Cultivation: Not so difficult: a bright spot, regular waterings in Summer and a well draining substrate will do well.
Curiosity: For being cactaceae, Maihuenia are incredibly cold-hardy: in their natural habitat, they survive for several months covered in a layer of snow!


Maihuenia is a small genus in the Cactaceae family, including only two species: M. patagonica and M. poeppigii.

These little cacti are native to severe habitats in high altitude areas of Argentina and Chile. Their name is actually a latinization of the name given to them by the indigenous populations.

Their habitats range in general from 500 to 2200 meters above sea level. The two species of Maihuenia grow in the extremely xeric (dry) regions of Patagonia on volcanic soils, on grasslands or stony plateaux. Maihuenia poeppigii, in particular, can also be found in more humid zones, in the subantartic province. Both Maihuenias, in their natural habitat, go through several months covered in snow.

Maihunias are mat-forming or cushion forming succulent plants, much branched and prostrate, with the cushions reaching a maximum height of 40 centimeters and the maximum diameter of 1 meter. Both Maihuenias are equipped with long thorns. Maihuenia poeppigii was formerly classified in the genus Opuntia, but the absence of glochids, together with many other differences, made the botanists change their mind.

The cushions often consist in hundreds of individual segments, formed by the much-branched, knotty, stems, which can be maximum 40 centimeters long.

Maihuenias leaves are ovoid or elongated-linear, cylindrical to needle-shaped, bright green, very small (1-2 millimeters in diameter and 5-10 millimeters in length). Maihuenias are evergreen, and they maintain their foliage in Winter.

Their spines are 15-27 millimeters long, arranged in groups of three spines for each areole. An areole, in botany, is the typical bud of cactaceae, from which the spines develop. In Maihuenias, the central spine in the areole is usually longer than the two lateral ones.

Flowers of Maihuenias are gorgeous: really large if compared with the leaves: this feature, along with their white, pink or yellowish colours and their remarkable number on the single cushion or mat, make them flashy and very attractive to pollinators. Along with the extreme rarity of these species, their flowers are one of the reasons why Maihuenias are so sought after by succulent enthusiasts. The blooming season occurs in late Spring.

Fruits are club-shaped, 7 centimeters long, and edible.


As mentioned above, there are only two species of Maihuenia:

  • M. patagonica
  • M. poeppigii

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Maihuenias are tough plant, so very easy to grow also for beginners. M. poeppigii in particular is super-tough and surprisingly resistant to moist climates.

  • Put your Maihuenia in a bright spot: at least it should receive direct sunlight at least for a few hours every day.
  • Water your Maihuenias regularly in Summer, waiting always for the soil to dry up before each intervention. In Autumn and Winter, reduce the watering frequency (in Winter it’s better to stop completely).
  • The substrate for your Maihuenia should be well-drained: a standard cactus mix will do well.
  • The resistance of cold of Maihuenias is remarkable: they can withstand rigid temperatures, below 0ºC. However, to stay safe, it’s better to shelter them during the winter, expecially if you live in an area with a moist cold season.
  • Fertilize during the growing season, at least once, with a product rich in potassium and phosphorus and poor in nitrogen.
  • Repotting will be necessary every 2-3 years.

The propagation of Maihuenias can be carried out through seeds or stem cuttings.

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