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Opuntia monacantha var. variegata
op-UN-shee-a mon-ah-KANTH-uh var-ee-GAY-tuh
Synonyms of Opuntia monacantha (12) (Updated on 9-6-21 from Plants of the World Online): Cactus indicus Roxb., Cactus monacanthos Willd., Cactus urumbeba Vell., Opuntia deflexa Lem., Opuntia gracilior Lem., Opuntia inermis Moris & De Not., Opuntia lemaireana Console ex Bois, Opuntia monacantha var. deflexa Salm-Dyck, Opuntia monacantha var. gracilior Lem., Opuntia monacantha var. variegata Anon., Opuntia roxburghiana Voigt, Opuntia vulgaris var. lemaireana (Console ex Bois) Backeb.
Opuntia monacantha var. variegata Anon. is the scientific name of the variegated variety of Opuntia monacantha. It was first described in The Gardener’s Chronicles in 1874. This variety is considered a synonym of Opuntia monacantha. Maybe someday this variety will once again be accepted as it is a legitimate name SINCE it vas validly described and published (even though it says “Anon.” for the author). HMMM… Maybe it wasn’t validly published? There are rules, you know. 🙂
Opuntia monacantha Haw. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of Opuntia. It was named and described as such by Adrian Hardy Haworth in Supplementum Plantarum Succulentarum in 1819. It was possibly first named and described as Cactus monacanthos by Carl Ludwig von Willdenow in Enumeratio Plantarum Supplementum in 1814. I say “possibly” because sometimes it is seen as Opuntia monacantha (Willd.) Haw. (the parenthesis indicates its previous name was used as a basionym).
The genus, Opuntia (L.) Mill., was named and described as such by Philip Miller in The Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754. Until then most genera of cactus were simply in the genus Cactus as described by Carl von Linnaeus in the first volume of the first edition of Species Plantarum in 1753.
Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 130 species in the Opuntia genus (as of 9-6-21 when this page was last updated). It is a member of the plant family Cactaceae with 146 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made on POWO.
There are several links and growing recommendations at the bottom of the page for further reading.
I found this interesting cactus at Wagler’s Greenhouse on March 28, 2020, so I brought it home. It measured 4 3/4” tall x 2 1/4” wide at the time. I didn’t know what it was because it had no label as many of their “in-house” plants don’t. They have quite a collection of larger plants they take cuttings from that are unlabeled. When I take plants to them I always include a label… I wasn’t sure what the name of this plant was so posted the photos on Succulent Infatuation (a Facebook group) and a member suggested it was an Opuntia monacantha var. variegata. As always, they were correct. 🙂
Even though the “variety” name is not an “accepted” scientific name, I will use it anyway because this “variety” is different from the species. I can use it because the name was validly published.
Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) lists this plant as Opuntia monacantha f. monstruosa variegata hort. and says it is one of very few naturally occurring white-variegated cacti. It says it is a dwarf, teratological variant of the larger Opuntia monacantha. This variegated variety can be variegated or marbled with white, creamy-white, yellow, green, and sometimes with pink in various patterns.
Because it is a monstrous form, it looks nothing like the species. Supposedly, this form grows less than 20″ tall but it can grow taller, up to maybe 36″. The species in the wild is a bushy or tree-like cactus that can grow from 6 to about 20′ tall. In the wild, the species grows huge pads like Prickly Pears normally do, but this monstrous form grows much differently. There are photos online of this variegated variety that shows a multitude of shapes and sizes so it will be interesting to watch grow.
The above photos show the areolas with a small amount of wool, small spines, and a pinkish color.
From the side, the main stem of the Opuntia monacantha is very thin. Sorry, this photo isn’t focused very well…
The above photo is a close-up of the numerous side branches.
I had to bring in the potted plants on October 15 (2020) because an “F” was in the forecast. I always take photographs and measurements to see how they have progressed over the year. Just since March 28 when I brought this plant home, it has grown from 4 3/4″ tall to 6 1/4″ tall on October 15.
As it grows, the lower branches seem to become longer and flatter. I am not normally a big fan of most Opuntia species, but this one is an exception. I think it is very neat.
The Opuntia monacantha var. variegata has done quite well and has grown to 8 1/2″ tall when the above photo was taken on August 17. The top broke off earlier in the summer but it grew a new pad to replace the one that fell off.
Origin: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay
Zones: USDA Zones 9a-10b (20-35° F)
Size: Usually less than 20” but can grow up to 3’or more.
*Light: Sun to part shade
**Soil: Very fast-draining soil. Potting Soil with additional perlite and chicken grit or 50/50 potting soil and pumice.
***Water: Regular watering during the summer but barely during the winter.
*During the summer, I keep most of my cactus on the back deck where they receive full sun. I kept this one on the front porch with most of the succulents in light shade its first summer. 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.
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.
The Opuntia monacantha var. variegata will definitely be an interesting cactus to watch grow. There is apparently a cultivar called ‘Maverick’ available… There isn’t a whole lot of information online about this plant, but I have found LLIFLE (Encyclopedia of Living Forms) has a lot of useful information.
I will continue adding 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. If you feel I have made an error, please let me know.