Mammillaria rhodantha (Rainbow Pincushion)

Mammillaria rhodantha on 7-19-16, #274-51.

Rainbow Pincushion

Mammillaria rhodantha

mam-mil-AR-ee-uh  rho-DAN-tha

Synonyms of Mammillaria rhodantha (132) (Updated on 11-9-21 from Plants of the World Online): Cactus acicularis Kuntze, Cactus atratus Kuntze, Cactus aureiceps (Lem.) Kuntze, Cactus canescens Moc. & Sessé ex DC., Cactus capillaris J.M.Coult., Cactus centrispinus (Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus chrysacanthus (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus crassispinus (Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus fulvispinus (Haw.) Kuntze, Cactus fuscatus (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus nigricans (Fennel) Kuntze, Cactus odierianus (Lem.) Kuntze, Cactus phaeacanthus (Lem.) Kuntze, Cactus pulcher (Haw.) Kuntze, Cactus pyrrhochracanthus (Lem.) Kuntze, Cactus rhodanthus (Link & Otto) Kuntze, Cactus rhodanthus var. sulphureospinus J.M.Coult., Cactus ruficeps Kuntze, Cactus rutilus (Zucc. ex Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Cactus stenocephalus (Scheidw.) Kuntze, Cactus stueberi (C.F.Först.) Kuntze, Cactus tentaculatus (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Kuntze, Mammillaria acicularis Lem., Mammillaria andreae (Otto ex Pfeiff.) J.Forbes, Mammillaria atrata Hook., Mammillaria aurata Pfeiff., Mammillaria aurea C.F.Först., Mammillaria aureiceps Lem., Mammillaria bonavitii Repp., Mammillaria calacantha Tiegel, Mammillaria centrispina Pfeiff., Mammillaria chrysacantha Link & Otto ex Pfeiff., Mammillaria crassispina Pfeiff., Mammillaria crassispina var. gracilior Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria diacentra Jacobi, Mammillaria erinacea H.L.Wendl., Mammillaria eugenia Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria fera-rubra F.Schmoll ex R.T.Craig, Mammillaria flaviceps Scheidw. ex Labour., Mammillaria floccigera Otto ex Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria fulvispina Haw., Mammillaria fulvispina var. pyrrhocentra Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria fulvispina var. rubescens Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria fuscata Link & Otto ex Pfeiff., Mammillaria fuscata var. russea (A.Dietr.) Backeb., Mammillaria fuscata var. sulphurea (C.F.Först.) Backeb., Mammillaria hybrida Pfeiff., Mammillaria imbricata Wegener, Mammillaria inuncta Hoffmanns., Mammillaria karwinskiana var. centrispina (Pfeiff.) Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria lanifera Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria mollendorffiana Shurly, Mammillaria mundtii K.Schum., Mammillaria neglecta J.Forbes, Mammillaria nigricans Fennel, Mammillaria nigricans Pfeiff., Mammillaria odieriana Lem., Mammillaria odieriana var. aurea Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria odieriana var. rigidior Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria olivacea Pfeiff., Mammillaria pfeifferi J.R.Booth ex Scheidw., Mammillaria pfeifferi var. altissima Scheidw., Mammillaria pfeifferi var. dichotoma Scheidw., Mammillaria pfeifferi var. flaviceps Scheidw., Mammillaria pfeifferi var. fulvispina Scheidw., Mammillaria pfeifferi var. variabilis Scheidw., Mammillaria phaeacantha Lem., Mammillaria pulchra Haw., Mammillaria punctata Labour. ex C.F.Först. & Rümpler, Mammillaria pyramidalis Link & Otto, Mammillaria pyrrhocentra Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria pyrrhochracantha Lem., Mammillaria radula Scheidw. ex C.F.Först., Mammillaria rhodantha f. andreae (Otto ex Pfeiff.) Voss, Mammillaria rhodantha var. andreae Otto ex Pfeiff., Mammillaria rhodantha var. aureiceps (Lem.) Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. aureiceps (Lem.) D.R.Hunt, Mammillaria rhodantha var. callaena K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha var. centrispina (Pfeiff.) Link ex C.F.Först., Mammillaria rhodantha f. centrispina (Pfeiff.) Voss, Mammillaria rhodantha var. chrysacantha (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha var. crassispina (Pfeiff.) K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. fera-rubra (F.Schmoll ex R.T.Craig) D.R.Hunt, Mammillaria rhodantha f. fulvispina (Haw.) Schelle, Mammillaria rhodantha var. fuscata (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. fuscata (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Rogoz. & Plein, Mammillaria rhodantha var. major Monv. ex Lem., Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. mccartenii D.R.Hunt, Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. mollendorffiana (Shurly) D.R.Hunt, Mammillaria rhodantha var. neglecta Pfeiff., Mammillaria rhodantha f. neglecta (J.Forbes) Voss, Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. odieriana (Lem.) Rogoz. & Plein, Mammillaria rhodantha var. odieriana (Lem.) Schelle, Mammillaria rhodantha var. pfeifferi (J.R.Booth ex Scheidw.) K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha var. prolifera Pfeiff., Mammillaria rhodantha var. pyramidalis K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha var. rubens Pfeiff., Mammillaria rhodantha var. ruberrima K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha var. rubescens Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria rhodantha var. rubra K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha f. ruficeps (Lem.) Voss, Mammillaria rhodantha var. ruficeps (Lem.) Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria rhodantha subsp. santarosensis Rogoz. & Plein, Mammillaria rhodantha var. stenocephala K.Schum., Mammillaria rhodantha f. sulphurea (C.F.Först.) Voss, Mammillaria rhodantha var. sulphurea (C.F.Först.) Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria rhodantha f. tentaculata (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Schelle, Mammillaria rhodantha var. wendlandii Pfeiff., Mammillaria robusta Otto ex C.F.Först., Mammillaria ruficeps Lem., Mammillaria russea A.Dietr., Mammillaria rutila Zucc. ex Pfeiff., Mammillaria rutila var. octospina Scheidw., Mammillaria rutila var. pallidior Salm-Dyck, Mammillaria stenocephala Scheidw., Mammillaria stueberi C.F.Först., Mammillaria sulphurea C.F.Först., Mammillaria tentaculata Link & Otto ex Pfeiff., Mammillaria tentaculata var. conothele Monv. ex Labour., Mammillaria tentaculata var. picta C.F.Först. & Rümpler, Mammillaria verticealba Repp., Mammillaria verticealba var. zacatecasensis Repp., Neomammillaria alba (Y.Itô) Y.Itô, Neomammillaria aureiceps (Lem.) Britton & Rose, Neomammillaria calacantha (Tiegel) Y.Itô, Neomammillaria calacantha var. rubra (W.T.Neale) Y.Itô, Neomammillaria fuscata (Link & Otto ex Pfeiff.) Y.Itô, Neomammillaria mollendorffiana (Shurly) Y.Itô, Neomammillaria mundtii (K.Schum.) Britton & Rose, Neomammillaria phaeacantha (Lem.) Britton & Rose, Neomammillaria rhodantha (Link & Otto) Britton & Rose, Neomammillaria rhodantha var. rubescens (Salm-Dyck) Y.Itô

Mammillaria rhodantha Link & Otto is the correct and accepted scientific name of this plant. It was first described by Johann Heinrich Friedrich Link AND Christoph Friedrich Otto in Icones Plantarum Selectarum in 1828.

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

As of 11-9-21 when this page was last updated, Plants of the World Online by Kew, there are 154 accepted 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. The number of species in the genus and genera in the family fluctuates on occasion.


Mammillaria rhodantha on 5-31-17, #339-33.

When I brought this plant from Wal-Mart on February 1, 2016, the label just said Mammillaria species. I looked at a lot of photos online and on the Llifle (Encyclopedia of Life) website and could not figure it out. Finally, I sent an email and photos to Daiv Freeman of the CactusGuide and he suggested it was a Mammillaria rhodantha. Even though the red spines would be a sure distinguishing feature, apparently I hadn’t looked at enough photos to get that far and so many mainly feature the flowers ad not the spines. There are many red or brownish-red spined species of cactus in several other genera besides Mammillaria. But, of course, the tubercles and the way they are arranged are distinguishing characteristics of Mammillaria species. Plus, not all Mammillaria rhodantha have reddish spines… It’s complicated…

Mammillaria rhodantha on 9-5-17, #371-19.

Mammillaria rhodantha, commonly called Rainbow Pincushion, is a native of high-table lands in Queretaro, Michoacán, Zacatecas, Jalisco, and Hidalgo in Mexico where it grows in fertile soil. The population of the species is not listed as threatened or endangered.

It is a short columnar cactus that divides dichotomously to form colonies. It is a highly variable species that has led to many varieties, forms, and subspecies names that are now synonyms of Mammillaria rhodantha. Others have been accepted as separate species such as Mammillaria pringlei. Currently, Plants of the World Online currently does not list any accepted infraspecific (subspecies, varieties, or forms) names for Mammillaria rhodantha.

Mammillaria rhodantha bud on 9-27-17, #379-9.

One day in September I noticed it had a bud… It must have already been there for quite a while.

Mammillaria rhodantha on 10-11-17, #382-51.

As with all Mammillaria species, it is covered with tubercles that are arranged spirally around the cactus. The areoles at the tip of the tubercles produce from 16-24 white or yellowish radial spines that resemble stiff hair. On my plant, they seem to be 3/8” to 1/4” long and radiate around the areole. There are 4-6 straight to curved reddish-brown central spines that appear to be approximately 5/8” long (more or less). The areoles on top of the plant have a very small amount of wool but not on the rest of the plant. The axils between the tubercles also have wool on the top of the plant, more so around the apex, but also a little on the rest of the cactus as well. Mammillaria rhodantha f. cristata would be a very interesting monstrous form to have in a collection. 

Mammillaria rhodantha at 3 3/4″ tall x 3″ wide on 10-17-17, #384-19.

Temperatures were getting cooler so I had to start thinking about bringing plants inside for the winter. You need to give your plants a good look before you bring them inside to make sure no bugs are coming in with them. Sometimes as cooler temps approach some insects may try to hibernate under leaves that have accumulated in the pot or around the base of the plant. I also measure my cactus and succulents periodically because some cactus grows so slow I like to measure them from time to time. On October 17, I moved the plants into the basement and the Mammillaria rhodantha measured 3 3/4″ tall x 3″ wide (including the spines). I usually don’t include the spines when I measure, but I kind of screwed up in 2017 and included the spines in the measurement. When I was finished cleaning, measuring, and taking photos I moved most of the plants upstairs for the winter.

Mammillaria rhodantha from the top showing many buds on 10-17-17, #384-20.

The Mammillaria rhodantha had a few more very small buds. Now, let’s see how long it takes for the flowers to open…

Mammillaria rhodantha on 10-31-17, #387-20.

I put several cactus and succulents on the kitchen windowsill where they receive a good amount of morning sun. The Mammillaria rhodantha was really glowing in the sun.

Mammillaria rhodantha on 11-6-17, #390-5.

I take a lot of photos but sometimes I don’t have a lot of words…


Mammillaria rhodantha on the evening on 1-18-18, #401-10.

The potted plants and I are anxiously waiting for warmer weather…

Mammillaria rhodantha on 5-17-18, #443-62.

Finally, once warmer temperatures arrived I moved all the potted plants back outside for the summer.

Mammillaria rhodantha on 7-29-18, #487-69.

On July 4 in 2018 I had to relocate the tables I keep my plants on. We had a Japanese Beetle invasion and the plant tables were under a Chinese Elm tree which the beetles love. The beetles were beginning to sample the other plants so I put most of the cactus on the back porch and most of the succulents and other plants on the front porch. The back porch isn’t covered so the cactus will receive full sun. The Mammillaria rhodantha is beginning to grow a few buds again.

Mammillaria rhodantha on 8-26-18, #499-27.

By August 26 the buds were getting larger.

Mammillaria rhodantha at 4″ tall x 2 7/16″ wide on 10-10-18, #519-51.

I had to move the potted plants inside for the winter on October 10 because the forecast was calling for an “F” in a few days and the nighttime temperatures were getting cooler. I usually measure the cactus and succulents when I bring them inside and the Mammillaria rhodantha was 4″ tall x 2 7/16″ wide. Last year I messed up and included the spines in the measurement but this year I remembered not to.

Mammillaria rhodantha with flowers on 10-10-18, #519-52.

The Mammillaria rhodantha is a very admirable plant with its reddish central spines and white radial spines. It always looks great even without the flowers.

Mammillaria rhodantha on 11-29-18, #534-26.

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. Sometimes I get busy and don’t pay much attention to the cactus and wonder what happened to the flowers… I notice buds earlier, then just small reddish dots later…

Mammillaria rhodantha buds on 11-29-18, #534-27.

It takes a LONG time for the buds to open on this plant… Buds form in the axils between the tubercles from the previous year’s growth. There is also a little wool in the axils between the tubercles which disappears with age. Supposedly, maybe on some species, flowering doesn’t occur until after the growth of trichomes becomes inactive.  Here you see buds forming among the wool between some of the tubercles… Or maybe the flowers have already opened and now they are wilted…

Mammillaria rhodantha close-up on 12-1-18, #535-20.

This Mammillaria rhodantha has 4-6 long, reddish-brown, recurving central spines. Other variations do not have reddish-brown spines. It produces 16-24 white (sometimes yellowish) radial spines.

The radial spines on the lower plant can turn somewhat gray looking with age, which Llifle says appear to be dying.

Mammillaria rhodantha divides dichotomously and also produces offsets. Hmmm… I didn’t realize I had so many Mammillaria species that divide dichotomously…

Mammillaria rhodantha from the top on 12-10-18, #538-1.

I took a photo of the top part of this cactus because it is very interesting. Many species have a wooly apex but the Mammillaria rhodantha is especially colorful. The wool on its areoles pretty much disappears as the plant ages.


Mammillaria rhodantha on 6-22-19, #593-34.

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 rhodantha at 4 1/2″ tall x 2 1/2″ wide on 10-11-19, #639-73.

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 rhodantha measured 4 1/2″ tall x 2 1/2″ wide.

Mammillaria rhodantha from the top on 10-19-19, #643-8.

Although this plant flowers several times over the summer and again in October, it doesn’t produce a lot of flowers. Mammillaria pringlei flowers in the same manner but produces A LOT of flowers. Mammillaria pringlei has been, and still is according to some, a subspecies of Mammillaria rhodantha. Well, I didn’t bring it home for the flowers. I brought it home because of its red spines…


Mammillaria rhodantha (Rainbow Pincushion) at 4 1/4″ tall x 2 5/8″ wide on 10-15-20, #747-78.

I had to bring the potted plants inside on October 15 (2020) because an “F” was in the forecast. As always, I took photographs and measurements. The Mammillaria rhodantha did very well over the summer and measured 4 1/4″ tall x 2 5/8″ wide.

Mammillaria rhodantha (Rainbow Pincushion) from the top on 10-15-20, #747-79.

Lots of buds…


Mammillaria rhodantha (Rainbow Pincushion) at 4 1/8″ tall x 2 3/4″ wide on 10-28-21, #853-23.

I didn’t have to move the potted plants inside for the winter until October 28 in 2021. There wasn’t a chance of “F” in the forecast until then which was quite unusual. The Mammillaria rhodantha grew to 4 1/8″ tall x 2 3/4″ wide over the summer and has a few buds…

Family: Cactaceae
Origin: Mexico
Zones: USDA Zones 9a-11 (20 to 40° F).
Size: 6-12” tall (15-30 cm).
Light: Sun to part shade.
*Soil: Fast-draining. Potting soil amended with pumice or perlite and grit.
Water: Average during the growing period, barely if any during the winter.
Flowers: Pinkish flowers about any time of the year.

*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. 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. 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 when you stop watering. 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 re-pot it right away. It is advisable to re-pot them in a better potting soil more suitable for cactus and succulents.

In my opinion, the Mammillaria rhodantha is a great spiny companion and is very easy to grow. Mammillaria species, in general, are very popular because they do so well and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many species are readily available and one can get addicted to collecting them.

I will continue adding more photos and information as time goes by. The links below take you directly to information about the species, or genus, for further reading.

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. If you find an error, please let me know. I am not an expert. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 If you wish, you can send an email to


2 comments on “Mammillaria rhodantha (Rainbow Pincushion)

  1. Sharone says:

    Thank you so much for this post & detailed pictorial updates. I got a Rainbow Pincushion as a gift two months ago and I’ve been looking for something like this although this was super comprehensive which I loved to read. I’m going to measure mine and monitor for any updates. I live in the tropics where there’s no much seasonal change. Thanks again for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Sharone! I am glad to hear you have a Mammillaria rhodantha and hope it continues to do well for you. It is a really neat plant with the red spines. I am also glad you enjoyed the page. Take care and thanks for the comment.


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