Mammillaria nivosa (Wooly Nipple Cactus)

Mammillaria nivosa (Wooly Nipple Cactus) at 1 3/4″ tall x 2″ wide after I brought it home on 12-2-20, #767-13.

Wooly Nipple Cactus, Nipple Cactus

Mammillaria nivosa

mam-mil-AR-ee-uh  niv-OH-suh

Synonyms of Mammillaria nivosa (8) (Updated on 11-12-21 from Plants of the World Online): Cactus flavescens DC., Cactus nivosus (Link ex Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus stramineus Spreng., Coryphantha nivosa (Link ex Pfeiff.) Britton, Mammillaria flavescens (DC.) Haw., Mammillaria straminea Haw., Mammillaria tortolensis Pfeiff., Neomammillaria nivosa (Link ex Pfeiff.) Britton & Rose

Mammillaria nivosa Link ex Pfeiff. is the correct and accepted scientific name for the Wooly Nipple Cactus. It was named and described as such by Louis (Ludwig) Karl Georg Pfeiffer in Enumeratio Diagnostica Cactearum hucusque Cognitarum in 1837. It had previously been named and described by Johann Heinrich Friedrich Link but his description wasn’t validly published. Mr. Pfeiffer then used the name and description giving Mr.Link the credit.

The genus, Mammillaria Haw., was named and described as such by Adrian Hardy Haworth in Synopsis Plantarum Succulentarum in 1812.

As of 11-12-21 when thispage was last updated, Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 154 species in the Mammillaria genus. It is a member of the plant family Cactaceae with 146 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made on POWO.


Mammillaria nivosa (Wooly Nipple cactus) on 12-2-20, #767-14.

I brought this Mammillaria nivosa (Wooly Nipple Cactus) home from Wal-Mart on December 2 (2020). It measured 1 3/4” tall x 2” wide and was in a 3 1/2” diameter x 3 1/4” tall pot. The label just said “CACTUS” with no other name. The label also said the grower was Rocket Farms from Half Moon Bay, California. 

Mammillaria nivosa is a native of several islands in the Caribbean where its populations have declined because of urban development and tourism. Several of the islands have many tourist resorts. It is also present on Mona Island which is a protected nature reserve.

Mammillaria nivosa (Wooly Nipple Cactus) on 12-2-20, #767-15.

The Mammillaria nivosa is a very interesting and colorful cactus that will make a great addition to my small cactus and succulent collection. I had 13 different Mammillaria when I was writing this page and over 60 cactus and succulents total. In the wild, Mammillaria nivosa can be found as solitary plants, but usually grows in colonies and readily offsets to form a small mat. Plants are dark green but turn a bronze color in more sun. Plants are globe-shaped and cylindrical with obtusely conical and laterally compressed tubercles.

Its tubercles have wooly areoles that usually produce one central spine and 6-13 radial spines. The spines are bright yellow to dark brown and are approximately 1 1/2″ long, point away from the stem, and are VERY stiff and sharp. There is ample wool in the axils between the tubercles as well. This plant does well in sunny to partly shady areas, but bright light is supposed to bring out the bronze color, encourage flowering, and heavy wool and spine production…


Well, this neat little cactus died over the summer in 2021…

Family: Cactaceae
Origin: Several islands in the Caribbean
Zones: USDA Zones 9b-11 (25 to 40° F/-3.8 to 4.5°C)
Size: Up to about 10” tall, usually freely offsets
*Light: Sun to part shade
**Soil: Very fast-draining. 1 part of a good quality potting soil amended with an additional 1 part perlite and 1 part chicken grit or a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and pumice.
***Water: Regular watering during the growing season and very little, if any, during the winter. 

*During the summer, I keep most of my cactus on the back deck where they receive full sun. During the winter most cactus aren’t picky about the light because they are basically dormant. For several winters, mine were in front of the east-facing sliding door in the dining room so they didn’t get much light but they did great. I built a new shelf for the bedroom so now they are in front of a west-facing window where they get indirect light. Most of the succulents are on a shelf in a south-facing window in a cool bedroom but a few are in my bedroom.

**When it comes to potting soil, finding the “sweet spot” is not exactly that easy when materials are limited. Some information suggests Mammillaria nivosa likes very well-draining soil, as do all cactus and succulents, but it also says it likes a little organic matter. Even though they supposedly are found on rocks… Cactus and succulent enthusiasts (and experts) do not recommend using peat-based commercial mixes but what choice is there for most of us. They say to use a loam-based mix… Hmmm… Our soil is loam, so do I just use dirt? Well, no because “dirt” is heavy and you need a “light” material. There is A LOT of cactus and succulent recipes online and some get pretty elaborate. Many say to use sand as an ingredient, but if you do that, it needs to be very coarse, like builders sand, because “ordinary” sand, like for sandboxes, is too fine and it clogs up the air space between the coarser ingredients. For MANY years I used 2 parts Miracle Grow or Schultz Potting amended with an additional 1 part of perlite and 1 part chicken grit. Schultz doesn’t seem to have as many large pieces of bark. Cactus and succulent enthusiasts recommended using pumice instead of perlite and grit so I checked it out… The “guy” at General Pumice (online) recommended using a 50/50 mix of potting soil and pumice. General Pumice has 3 different sizes to choose from depending on the size of the pot. SO, in 2018 I bought a bag of 1/8″ and mixed it 50/50 with Miracle Grow Potting Soil. I liked it pretty well. Then in 2020, since most of the cactus were in larger pots, I ordered the 1/4″ size. Pumice has a lot of benefits over perlite and has nutrients that are added to the soil when watering. Pumice is also heavier so it stays mixed in the soil instead of “floating” to the top. Still, there is the issue of the mix getting very hard once you stop watering the plants during the winter months. I think this is because of the peat in the potting soil… SO, instead of re-potting the cactus and succulents in the spring, I started doing it during the fall and winter so their soil would be loose. Since you don’t water as frequently during the winter if at all, the timed-release fertilizer does not activate. I have not tried coir, but I am looking into it… 

I think a lot of growing tips online are written by people who never grew succulents and cactus. They just copy from one website and paste it to theirs. You have to sort of mimic the soil where species grow in their native habitat. For that, you almost have to go see for yourself… Typically, they grow in fairly rocky soil

***I water my cactus and succulents on a regular basis during the summer but barely ever in the winter (maybe a little in January) until close to time to take them back outside. 

You can read my Cactus Talk & Update and Cactus & Succulent Tips to get my opinion about growing cactus and succulents.

When you bring your new plants home from the store, you need to check their roots and the soil to see if they are wet. If so, you may want to repot it right away. It is advisable to repot them in a better potting soil more suitable for cactus and succulents.

I am glad I found the Mammillaria nivosa and I look forward to having it as a companion. I will continue adding more photos and information as time goes by.

I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant. There isn’t that much online about it at the moment…


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