Opuntia subulata


Austrocylindropuntia subulata
Cylindropuntia subulata
Pereskia subulata
Pereskiopsis subulata


Opuntia subulata is native to Bolivia, Colombia and Peru and is now widely distributed in South America and also in parts of southern Europe. The plant grows in semi-arid areas where can spread up to 2900 m of altitude.


Opuntia subulata is a popular shrubby cactus belonging to the Cactaceae botanical family. This plant is very different from the others opuntias: it has no leaf pads and has fleshy persistent leaves which is unusual for cacti; this species is also distinguished by its not completely open flowering. The plant has an erect columnar habit and can reach up to 4 m in height and 10 cm in diameter. The plant can develop a single erect stem or branch from the base. The trunk has a smooth, brown bark and its areoles can bear cluster of 8 spines or more. When young the stem is made of diamond-shaped tubercles that can obliterated in age. The tubercles are large, depressed and arranged in spiral lines. The areoles are woolly, whitish sometimes spineless, but usually bearing 1-2 slender spines. The spines are erect, stout, yellow to greyish white up to 8 cm long. The leaves are persistent, pale green, pointed, awl-like, straight or somewhat bowed above up to 12 cm long. Blooming occurs during the summer and the blossom are borne at the apex of the branches. The flowers are small, pale red, not completely opened with styles and stigmas reddish-orange. The fruits are oblong, reddish purple containing few seeds.


This is a fast growing plant, easy to cultivate. The plant needs a direct sun-light exposure all the year, this will help a lush flowering. Long exposure to direct sun-light can cause burns and burnt spots. The succulent can tolerate temperatures to 45° C, and short periods of frost, but prolonged cold will damage or kill the plant. Too low temperatures can cause the stem or leaves to break due to water freezing inside the tissues. Temperatures between 10 and 15 °C allow the plants to enter vegetative rest which is essential for the flowering of the following year. Plants should not be placed inside the house where average temperatures of 20 degrees prevent vegetative rest. The soil should be a well-draining and porous soil, so you can use a standard cactus soil or a mix of fertile soil and sand. The pumice should always be placed on the bottom of the pot. Remember to use a perforating pot to drain excess water. Watering can be done regularly during the vegetative period. During the vegetative period you can water the plant every 5 days with half a glass of water, checking that the soil is completely dry before watering again; in winter you should stop the watering to allow the plant to enter dormancy. Decrease the amount of water if the plant is kept indoors or if the pot is smaller than 12 cm. The plant is used to growing in poor soils, for this reason it does not need abundant fertilization, it is sufficient to fertilize once in spring and once in summer. If the pot starts to be too small for the plant you can repot the plant in a pot 2 cm wider. Repotting should be done early in the growing season with fresh new potting soil; it is usually done every year. Be careful to red spiders and mealy bugs.


Propagation is usually done by cutting but seeding is also possible. For leaf pads cutting you can cut some healthy leaves and plant it in a pot with sand and loam. Place the pot in a warm and bright environment and in 1-2 months the cuttings will be ready to plant. To increase the success of propagation you can make two or more cuttings at the same time. It is advisable to use rooting hormone at the base of the cut to energize root development. For cuttings it is recommended temperatures around 20 °C. Propagation by seed it is not recommended for this species because it is very slow. To fast the propagation, you can try to immerse the seeds in water for 1 day. Sow the seeds in a sandy loam and keep them in warm, humid conditions. The seeds will germinate in 7-14 days but remember to avoid direct sunlight for seedlings and keep them ventilated.


Opuntia was named after “Opunte”, the capital of Locride region in ancient Greece. The specific epithet comes from the Latin and means “awl” and refers to the shape of the leaves.

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