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Opuntia cochenillifera ‘Sunburst’ variegated

Botanical Name — Opuntia cochenillifera ‘Sunburst’ variegated
Common Name — Cochineal nopal cactus
Plant Family — Cactaceae


Opuntia cochenillifera is a native to Mexico, but it is widely cultivated across the Americas and Asia. The ‘Sunburst,’ form does not occur naturally in the wild and was cultivated in a nursery. Known for its mottled, camouflage look, it is highly sought by collectors. Give it plenty of sunlight so it retains its vibrant variegation.

Growth Requirements

  • Opuntia cochenillifera will grow in full sun to part shade. At least five hours of direct sun a day is ideal.

Temperature/ Humidity
  • These plants prefer warm temperatures and low humidity. They will thrive in temperatures above 70 ºF.
  • During the winter months they’ll appreciate a cool down period with temperatures between 40 and 50 ºF, but it’s best to bring them inside when temperatures routinely drop below 40 ºF.

  • Opuntia cochenillifera are extremely drought tolerant, but enjoy a good amount of water during the summer growing season. Let the soil dry out between watering, but when you do water, water them thoroughly, fully saturating the soil.
  • If you are unsure whether or not the soil is dry, wait a few days before watering. It is much better to underwater than to overwater. Excessive moisture can quickly lead to root rot.
  • Cut back on watering dramatically in winter, maybe even watering every month to month and a half.

  • These plants prefer a gritty, sharply draining mix. Use cactus soil or amend regular potting mix with sand and fine pumice up to 50% to improve texture and drainage.
  • In desert climates these plants can be potted directly in the earth and grown outdoors year round.

  • These plants flower in late spring and early summer, often in great abundance.
  • Blossoms are a vibrant pink-red.

  • These plants do not require much fertilization. To give them a boost during the growing season fertilize once monthly with a fertilizer formulated specifically for cacti and succulents.
  • Only fertilize during the spring and summer. Never fertilize during the winter months.

  • Opuntia plants are easily propagated by stem cuttings. This plant produces many branching pads that can be separated and potted to grow new plants.


  • Opuntia cochenillifera are not especially prone to disease but they can fall susceptible to certain bacterial and fungal infections. Among the most common are prickly pear leaf spot caused by the Phyllosticta fungus, or root rot which can be bacterial or fungal. These diseases are often triggered by excessive moisture, so avoid overwatering and excessive humidity. These diseases are very difficult to treat. Remove infected limbs. Fully affected plants should be destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Pests are not particularly common for this plant. Still, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for common pests such as scale and mealybugs.

Maintenance (pruning, legginess, repotting)
  • Opuntia cochenillifera require very little maintenance. Container grown plants prefer to be rootbound and should only be repotted once every two to three years.

  • Opuntia cochenillifera are non-toxic to humans and pets.
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