Updated Guide to Growing Miqueliopuntia miquelii – Blue Opuntia

miqueliopuntia miquelii

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: July 10, 2024

I first wrote about this cactus back in 2020, detailing a happy little import I’d had for about a year at that point. While my early post and guidance for growing them was good enough, I had only been growing the plant for one year, and hadn’t yet imported any new specimens or tried propagating from my specimen at all. My first post about this species is linked for you here.

In the years since, that’s changed! My suggestions for growing will be somewhat similar, but now I have a few years of experience and repeated seasonal changes to add more context to why I’m recommending what I am.

MIqueliopuntia miquelii

July, 2021, three new cladodes

Natural Habitat

First, a quick refresher on where these are from.

These are found in habitat in the deserts of northern Chile, where Guanacos commonly eat them and disperse the seeds. I’ve never seen mine bloom, much less produce a fruit, so I have no comment on how edible the fruits are or how pretty the flowers may be.

In habitat, they often grow in the shade of larger trees, and are locally abundant. In cultivation, however, they are extremely uncommon and hard to find, commanding a high price when they are available. The reason for this (based on my experience) will be clearer by the end of this post.

Specimens in full sun and harsh natural conditions develop large amounts of glochids and extremely long, uneven spines that grow in after the glochids.

Cladode: “photosynthetic stem segments” – a specific way to describe the segmented arms and sections common in paddle cacti such as this. 

Cultivation of Miqueliopuntia miquelii

If you have a sheltered, bright area to keep these in for winter that doesn’t experience a hard freeze, I find them to be surprisingly easy to grow…just slow

When I potted this up into a larger pot (8″ size), this was before I’d found my preferred blend – but I still amended the soil! I think I mixed up about 50% pumice with 50% succulent soil. It saturated quickly, and dried quickly – perfect for the species. 

I left it in the pot for about 2 years, letting it gain some size. 

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

I can’t emphasize how slowly these grow with enough vehemence. In July of 2021, it had made three new cladodes.

The photo above is from January 2022, and you can see the biggest difference in those 7 months is just that the cladodes all grow longer spines on their areoles.

I think 2021 was a year I was still using a “cactus fertilizer” instead of the balanced blue powder I use now, and I really didn’t see much difference or improvement in my plants using that fertilizer. I also very rapidly confirmed that this species, like pretty much all opuntias, only grows new cladodes once a year. Compared to my outdoor Opuntias, this species is later to wake up. Where my Opuntia santa-rita and others are making flowers and new cladodes or paddles in April, May, and June, my Miqueliopuntia miquelii doesn’t start showing new growth until it’s HOT. Some years, it’s May, some years (like this year, 2024), it’s almost July. 

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

Here’s the Miqueliopuntia in May of 2022, showing absolutely no signs of new cladodes coming out. 

Between 2022 and 2023, I moved it around a bit – I was figuring out arrangements on the benches, what plants thrived where, etc. For best color, best spination, and best growth, these really thrive in full sun. 

The catch is that in full sun, they also get insane levels of spination. The center portions of the cactus, with their 4 to 7 long spines per areole and the density of them, are all from when I had this cactus fully outdoors as soon as nights were over 40F. The newer cladodes still have characteristic spines, but they’re not as dense, and the blue color is clear. 

If you look closely, you may notice that the blue is a bit worn off of the top of some areoles. I learned the hard way *not* to spray these with the hose directly – the most attractive look of the blue color is when the base is allowed to develop a thin farina on top. When I used the hose to do a thorough rinse at the start of the year, I blasted some off by mistake, and it doesn’t really come back. 

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

In 2023, the greenhouse was getting warm early, despite the overall weather being cloudy and mild for a surprisingly long time.

The new cladodes came out in May last year, which was a surprise. 

I had moved the cactus below my benches to ride out the winter and be out of the way for any winter growers I was keeping watered, and it didn’t get as densely spined with the increased shade. Around this time, I decided to pot it up into a show pot and give it a go at the summer show. It was definitely thriving, and I thought it’d be a fun and unique species to bring.

At right is the Miqueliopuntia miquelii all potted up and looking pretty for the SDCSS Summer Show & Sale (2023)!

It was definitely happy with new soil, and the new cladodes achieved a nice size fairly quickly. Moving it back up to the top of my benches also helped encourage the spines to come in “properly”. 

By this point, it was also getting fertilized with the 20:20:20 fertilizer (at half strength) that my other greenhouse cacti were getting. I think the extra food and new soil contributed significantly to the big new cladodes and how quickly they reached size. 

I often use desert gold decomposed granite as a decorative topper for my show plants, as I did here, and it looks super pretty when I do…but it does make it very hard to water the cacti effectively. It tends to harden and form a water barrier, rather than letting the water through. 

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

June 2023

While these cacti do need to be very dry through winter months (they are extremely unforgiving of cold weather, and are prone to rot if you water them more than a splash if it’s below 40F at night), they still like a decent amount of water in summer. When offered water every week during the hottest months of the year, I saw the best growth – especially the following year. 

I have no real scientific backing apart from my own observations, but when my Miqueliopuntia was in the 8″ (non-show) pot, with well-draining soil and able to be watered thoroughly, I saw the best growth the year after. I suspect a lot of the energy used to make the new cladodes come from what it banks the previous growing season. New cladodes emerge at the very beginning of its growing season, so it likely doesn’t have much in the way of energy to make them yet. 

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

November 2023

The new growth last year was attractive, but I didn’t see the same big spines really develop the way I’d have liked. This is likely a result of being kept central in the greenhouse (where I can’t be stabbed by an errant branch) and under 40% shade cloth year-round. These cacti really love being under extremely bright, hot light, and the greenhouse just wasn’t sunny enough. 

This year (summer of 2024), I’m planning to repot it back into a grow-out pot to help it gain some size. While showing it in 2023 was fun, transporting these super-spiny species to and from the show pokes a lot of holes in my hands…. 

I also am hoping to encourage it to grow large enough that I can begin using it to propagate more offshoots to offer them for sale! 

How to Propagate

Miqueliopuntia miquelii

As a summer-growing, scorching-weather loving species, timing is critical for propagation.

I took a single cladode cutting from mine in May of 2024 to experiment with, which was around the same time I took cuttings from my Opuntia macrocentra to do the same. 

Before the cutting dried, I used a small amount of rooting hormone powder (I use this type, although others may work too) to help callous the end. Once that was dry enough (about 3 hours later), I put the cladode into a half-filled 4″ pot with pure pumice

I left the pumice dry for about a week, which helps the cut ends of the cacti truly callous over and prevents rot. 

At that point, I began watering the cuttings in pumice about once a week or so, just whenever I was out in the greenhouse refilling water for seedlings. 

miqueliopuntia miquelii

June 2024

It took about a month, but all macrocentra paddles had begun to produce small roots within 4 weeks, and the Miqueliopuntia had also put out a few small roots. You can tell if it’s rooting with a gentle tug or wiggle on the plant – when roots have emerged, you’ll feel some resistance when you do this. The Opuntia macrocentra with the most roots were repotted and brought to the SDCSS sale in early June, but I left my Miqueliopuntia to develop a stronger root system first. 

As of writing this blog post (last few days of June), the roots are much more robust and I’ve moved the prop outdoors. By the time this publishes, you should be able to see the rooted plant available for sale in my shop

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