Mammillaria plumosa-Feather Cactus

Mammillaria plumosa after I put it in a pot on 9-22-18.

Feather Cactus

Mammillaria plumosa

mam-mil-AR-ee-uh  plum-OH-suh

Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit

Synonyms of Mammillaria plumosa from Plants of the World Online: Chilita plumosa (F.A.C.Weber) Orcutt, Ebnerella plumosa (F.A.C.Weber) Buxb., Escobariopsis plumosa (F.A.C.Weber) Doweld, Neomammillaria plumosa (F.A.C.Weber) Britton & Rose

Mammillaria plumosa F.A.C.Weber is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of cactus. It was named and described by Frédéric Albert Constantin Weber in Dictionnaire d’Horticulture in 1898. 

The genus, Mammillaria Haw., was named and described by Adrian Hardy Haworth in Synopsis Plantarum Succulentarum in 1812. According to Plants of the World Online by Kew, there are 162 accepted species in the Mammillaria genus as of when I am updating this page on 12-23-19. Those numbers are likely to change.


Mammillaria plumosa after I unwrapped it from being shipped on 9-22-18, #511-4.

I bought this plant from a seller on Ebay and it arrived on September 22 (2018). It was really NICE and arrived safe and sound wrapped in toilet paper. The selection on Ebay and a few groups on Facebook is much better than what I can find at Wal-Mart and Lowe’s…


Mammillaria plumosa with its roots on 9-22-18, #511-6.

The cluster measured approximately 3/4” tall x 2 1/4” wide. You cannot tell how many offsets are in the cluster because of all the fuzz. A single specimen of this species can take a couple of years to offset, but I can feel there are several in this cluster of fuzz. It kind of reminds me of a VERY HAIRY Thimble Cactus (Mammillaria vetula subsp. gracilis).


Mammillaria plumosa on 9-22-18, #511-7.

Family: Cactaceae
Origin: Coahuila, Nuevo León, & Tamaulipas in Mexico.
Zones: USDA Zones 9a-11 (20-40° F)
Size: Around 5” tall x 16” wide clumps
Light: Sun to light shade
Soil: Very well-draining soil. Potting soil amended with additional grit and pumice or perlite.
Water: Regular watering during the summer and barely in the winter. Keep water off the spines (feathers) for best appearance…


Mammillaria plumosa in its new pot on 9-22-18, #511-10.

I put the cluster in the smallest pot I thought it should be in for its size. Cactus do not need large pots because their root system is not that big. To much soil under the plant can lead to root rot, which is another reason not to overwater.

Its status in its natural habit is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN Red List. Llifle said it grows on limestone cliffs in sparse xerophytic shrubland and there is a continuing decline due to ongoing plant collecting. Apparently, the species is illegally collected for the ornamental trade. Locals collect the plant from the wild and sell them at local markets at Christmas time as they are used to decorate nativity scenes.


Mammillaria plumosa on 11-29-18, #534-23.

November 29 was a nice spring-like day, so I took the cactus to the back porch for a photoshoot. I was working on a post to show the difference between the cactus in my collection.

This cluster of plants has one central plant 1 1/2- 1 3/4″ (depending on where you measure), with six offsets.


Mammillaria plumosa close-up on 12-1-18, #535-18.

The areole of the Mammillaria plumosa produces about 40 radial spines that are from 1-7 mm long. I think that is up to about 1/32″. Anyway, the radial spines are very short that somehow are interlacing and feathery. Llifle says, “The spines in this species have very long hairs along the spine-axis arranged as are the segments of a bird’s feather and that furnish an epidermal protection against the blasting sun of the desert.” Another more complicated website says, “Epidermis cells on spines of Mammillaria plumosa grow out as trichomes, shading the plant.”

OK, in layman’s terms… I looked at the plant closely with a magnifying glass and it was still fairly difficult to see what is going on because everything is so small. The tubercles are fairly close together so the radial spines kind of interlace with each other. The radial spines, even though Llifle says they are 1-7 mm long, some of them measured 1/8″ long and are pretty stiff. Even though they are thin and stringy looking, they are more like a very thin wire. Very few resemble feathers, BUT if you look closely at the above photo you can actually see a few in this photo that do look like feathers… It is hard to tell where the hair (trichomes) comes from but Llifle says the spine axis. That would mean also from the areole since that is where the spines grow from. The wooliest areas are around the apex and feel like cotton. Oh yeah… The brown spots in the photo are the centers of the areoles. It is going to be neat watching this plant grow.

By the time I was finished looking the plant over, it was telling me, “ENOUGH ALREADY!”



Mammillaria plumosa on 6-22-19, #593-32.

Once evening temperatures warmed up I moved the potted plants back outside for the summer. I moved the cactus to the back porch where they could receive full sun.

I was fairly busy during the summer so I didn’t take many photos. All the plants did very well despite a little neglect.


Mammillaria plumosa at 1 1/2″ tall x 3″ wide on 10-11-19, #639-69.

I had to bring the potted plants inside on October 11 because an “F” was in the forecast. I always take photos of the plants as I bring them inside and measure the cactus and some of the succulents. The Mammillaria plumosa cluster measured approximately 1 1/2″ tall x 3″ wide. It measured 3/4” tall x 2 1/4” wide when I received it on 9-22-18.


Mammillaria plumosa on 10-11-19, #639-70.

I have a lot of neat cactus in my collection and the Mammillaria plumosa is definitely one of the most interesting.


Mammillaria plumosa flowers on 11-2-19, #646-5.

I was very happy when I saw a few buds poking upon the Mammillaria plumosa and after a while, the flowers started to open. November 2 was a nice spring-like day so I took several cactus outside to get some good photos of their flowers.  Llifle says they produce yellowish-white flowers sometimes with pink mid-stripes and have a strong scent. Well, I didn’t think to sniff the flowers to check.


Mammillaria plumosa flower on 11-2-19, #646-6.



Mammillaria plumosa repotting on 11-13-19, #649-14.

Several cactus and succulents needed to be repotted so I started doing that on November 13. Some just needed their soil changed while others needed bigger pots. I used about 50/50 Miracle Grow Potting Soil and pumice for the mix. There are many recipes online for cactus and succulents, but I prefer something simple. I had used a mixture of 2 parts potting soil with 1 part chicken grit and 1 part perlite for many years then read where succulent enthusiasts prefer pumice. SO, I have been trying that since the fall of 2018 with favorable results. I repot any time of the year as necessary, but I have found Fall is a great time. After a summer of regular watering, the potting mixture can become kind of hard when it is decreased. Repotting in the Fall gives the plants nice and loose soil for the winter.

Usually, you shouldn’t increase the pot size that much for cactus because they don’t have a very extensive root system. To much soil under their roots where moisture isn’t used can cause their roots to rot. I use an old aluminum nail (that mom bought MANY years ago for baked potatoes) to tamp the potting soil between the plant and the side of the pot.


Mammillaria plumosa repotting on 11-13-19, #649-15.

Always make sure to center the plant in the pot and make sure they are standing straight. You wouldn’t want your plants to feel lop-sided. 🙂


Mammillaria plumosa in its new pot on 11-13-19, #649-16.

Sometimes the flowers are open and sometimes they are closed. Old flowers fade and fall off and a few new buds emerge and eventually open.


Mammillaria plumosa on 11-18-19, #653-4.

Many cactus grow very slowly and waiting for their buds to open can get ridiculous. Once you notice a few buds, you look every day to see how big they are. Eventually, you forget about them and the next thing you know you have flowers. Patience, so it is said, is a virtue.

I will continue adding more photos and information as time goes by. This plant will definitely be interesting.

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

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. You can also send an email to