Ball cactus flower surprise

One of my favorite small cacti is Parodia magnifica, commonly called ball or balloon cactus for the shape of its body. When you think about it, that’s not the most imaginative name since thousands of other cacti are ball-shaped, too. I wonder who gets to decide on a plant’s common name???

What I love about Parodia magnifica is the bluish gray coloration of the body—although mine has gotten more green lately—combined with the fine, almost furry spines that are more bristly than spiky. I think it’s a beautiful cactus even when young and solitary. As it matures, it may form  a clump that becomes ever more impressive as it ages.

Clump of Parodia magnifica at Ruth Bancroft Gardens, Walnut Creek, CA

I bought my Parodia magnifica on closeup at Lowe’s earlier this year. For some reason, Lowe’s closed out a big portion of their succulents in February, only to restock them a couple of months later. Their loss, my gain.

Parodia magnifica in February when its skin had a pronounced bluish cast
I love how the yellow spines contrast with the bluish body

In early August I noticed that flowers were forming. I was very excited—like I always am when a cactus gets ready to bloom. Over the following weeks, the buds didn’t seem get any bigger so I stopped paying attention, figuring they would abort.

August 3, 2011
August 3, 2011

Imagine my surprise when I walked out at lunchtime today and found a perfectly formed flower of the most magnificent sulphur yellow.

August 27, 2011

Unlike many other cacti, like the Gymnocalycium friedrichii that bloomed the other day, this flower opened up and stayed open in the shade.

The flower is about 2½" across. The cactus itself is 5" wide by 3" tall.

When I checked again later in the evening, the second bud had opened, too, so now there were two flowers in bloom.

7pm: both buds are open now

Parodia magnifica is native to the grasslands of far southern Brazil and Uruguay that have distinct warm and cool seasons. Winters can get relatively cold (with an emphasis on relatively), and it’s been reported that Parodia magnifica will survive 20°F with some protection as long as it’s kept perfectly dry.

Actually, I believe this is the biggest secret to growing cacti: Water them well while they’re actively growing (and fertilize them occasionally), but keep them dry in the winter.


  1. This cactus is native to a grassland? Surprising!

  2. Alan, apparently the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul and much of Uruguay are vast grasslands. They are part of the Pampas that stretches south in to Argentina. The variety of cactus habitats that exists is amazing.


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