Maihuenopsis boliviana


The name “Maihueniopsis boliviana” is actually a synonym of Cumulopuntia boliviana subsp. echinacea. Other synonyms of this species name are:
Cumulopuntia echinacea
Maihueniopsis boliviana subsp. echinacea
Opuntia echinacea
Tephrocactus echinaceus


Maihuenopsis boliviana is a cacti species native to southern Peru, the Bolivian altiplano, and regions of Chile and Argentina. It grows at altitudes ranging from 2000 to 4400 meters, from medium altitudes to beyond the timber line. This species thrives in arid, high altitude environments close to the Andes, with annual precipitations of 400-800 mm, mostly concentrated in winter. It grows in fully exposed, sunny areas, either in flat areas or slopes facing north, on sandy grounds but never on rocks. This cactus is not currently facing any significant threats.


Maihuenopsis boliviana is a dense, cushion-forming cactus species native to high-elevation deserts in the Andes. It forms large mounds up to 100 cm in diameter, and comprises several local or morphological forms that differ in appearance throughout its range. In cultivation, it can be difficult to grow, lacking the dense spines and often not flowering. There are four subspecies recognized, including the typical form (subsp. boliviana), subsp. dactylifera, subsp. echinacea, and subsp. ignescens.

The species has a thick, napiform root and elongate to ovoid stem segments that are light green, tuberculate, and 3.5-7 cm long and 3.5-4 cm in diameter. The areoles, located near the segment tips, are rounded, about 15 in number, and about 4 mm across, bearing a ring of brownish-yellow glochids with a small, white or yellowish, woolly center. The basal areoles are spineless. The leaves are minute and ephemeral.

The spines of Maihuenopsis boliviana range from 1 to 10 (or more), and are located only on the uppermost areoles near the segment tips. They can be erect or somewhat spreading, straight, rounded or slightly compressed, yellow to reddish brown, and becoming grey or black with age. Some spines are thin and flexible, and a few shorter, secondary spines (3-10 mm long) may be present, which are whitish and bristly.

The yellow (rarely orange, pink, or red) flowers of Maihuenopsis boliviana are 4-5.5 cm long and 5-6 cm in diameter, with pericarpels bristly above. The tepals are small and spatulate, and the outer tepals are pale yellow or slightly tinged with red. The stamens are sensitive, with light yellow filaments and anthers. The style is light yellow, and the stigma lobes are 7-8, paler, whitish or greenish.

The fruits of Maihuenopsis boliviana are usually nearly spherical and truncated, fleshy, green to yellow, and mostly spineless. However, a few flexible bristles (20 mm long) may be present. The seeds are 3 x 2 mm, with a shiny, hard testa and a prominent annular rim.


Maihuenopsis boliviana is a tough cactus that can handle frost, but struggles in hot and humid environments. It’s best grown in a greenhouse where it can get plenty of sun and air. In cultivation, the cactus may not be as spiny and may not flower as much as it would in its natural habitat. For the best results, plant it in a well-draining soil mix with a high mineral content and in a deep pot to accommodate its big tap root. During the growing season from April to mid-September, water and feed it regularly, but let it dry out during the winter to help stimulate flowering. Re-pot every other year to give it fresh soil. This cactus can survive temperatures as low as -8°C and can tolerate occasional snow cover. It’s hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 8.


If you want to propagate Maihuenopsis boliviana, you can start by taking cuttings and letting them dry out for a few weeks. The roots will grow quickly this way. If you prefer to get new clones using seeds, you’ll need to do a little preparation. The seeds have tough shells, like a hazelnut, so you’ll need to soak them for 24 hours and scarify or break the husks before planting. This way, they’ll germinate in just 5 or 6 days. Without doing this, germination can take several months or even years with intact seeds.


Maihuenopsis boliviana, also known as Cumulopuntia boliviana, gets its name from the Mapuche indigenous language, “maihuen” meaning “cloud” and “opsis” meaning “resemblance”. This is a nod to its native habitat in high elevation deserts around 4000 meters in the Andes where it resembles a cloud.

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