February Clever Cactus of the Month - Parodia Ottonis

Parodia Ottonis – Clever Cactus of the Month

Our second ever Clever Cactus of the Month award goes … to the Parodia Ottonis! This little one is our favourite … that’s why it was the first clever cactus sketched & appears in a lot of our marketing materials.

(Admittedly there are over 100 types of cacti and we’ve only researched a handful, so we’re predicting that each month’s profile will start with “this is our favourite cactus”. Don’t hold it against us! We really love cacti.)

Fun fact: An easy-to-grow and free-flowering cactus, the P. Ottonis is usually the first cactus any cactophile gets. You could say it’s THE gateway cactus.

The Cactus of Many Names

  • Name: Indian Head Cactus
  • Species: Parodia ottonis
  • Genus: Parodia
  • Home: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay
  • Natural habitat: Subtropical grasslands
  • Height: Up to 10 cm (4 inches)
  • Flower: Yellow, sometimes orange-red or red, daisy-like flower
  • Blooms: Mid to late summer
  • Availability: Very popular and easy to find.

Call me Mr. Popular

Parodia Ottonis is a native of the highlands in South Brazil, Uruguay, North-east Argentina and South Paraguay. A cactus of many names, it’s been classified as ottonis in the Echinocactus, Notocactus, Malacocarpus and Peronocactus genuses as well as the Parodia. However, the first description of the ottonis appeared in 1827. Johann Georg Christian Lehmann called it the Cactus ottonis in his publication, while that same year Nigal Paul Taylor labeled it as a Parodia. Since Cactus is the family name for all cacti genuses, we’ve chosen Parodia for this piece.

Parodia Ottonis are very popular in the cactophile world. As mentioned above, they’re easy to grow, and thus make a great “first cactus” for anyone who wants to start growing cacti of their own. They’re also very easy to cultivate, which means there are many subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars. This article on LLIFLE details all the different “types” of P. Ottonis and how they differ in appearance from the parent cactus.

Beautiful blooms

Parodia Ottonis are round, sometimes column-like, cacti with off-white/yellow to brown spines and a single deep yellow, sometimes orange-red, flower. They can reach diameters of three to 15 centimeters and heights of 12 centimeters, making them squat rather than tall. They’re usually light green when they first start growing, darkening to deep green and sometimes purple as they mature. Each cactus “stem” grows a single flower, usually yellow with one subspecies featuring gorgeous orange-red blooms.

Parodia Ottonis also grow very fast and love deep pots due to their napiform roots. (Napiform roots are shaped like carrots.) They grow individually at first. As they get older, they cluster in groups by producing new plants up to 20 cm away from the original plant.

Parodia Ottonis follow the stereotypical cactus image with a lot of sharp thorns (or spines, if we want to use the “correct” cactus term). There are just enough hair-like thorns to show it’s a cactus without making it difficult to see the “stem”. These round barrel cacti are deeply ribbed, which means the surface has deep valleys and “tall” hills. In fact, they usually have between six and 12 distinct ribs that can be either rounded or sharp-edged, depending on the subspecies.

Summer sun & winter mist

Clever Cactus sketch - Parodia Ottonis

An easy summer grower, Parodia Ottonis is the perfect starter cactus. It loves windowsills and shoots up quickly (so start it in a bigger pot than you think you might need). That being said, it does stay small, so maybe not THAT big of a pot. As an added bonus, this little one doesn’t need pruning, so you can set it and forget it (except maybe to water it once and a while).

Planting & repotting

Plant the Padonia Ottonis between June and August (aka the summer months) in a pot with good drainage. If you must repot them, only do so once every two years. Repotting too frequently will damage the sensitive roots and kill the cactus.

Full sun to partial shade

They love direct sunlight in the morning and afternoons, but prefer indirect sunlight during the hottest hours of the day. If you want a dark, rich green bordering on purple, grow it in light shade.

Warm to hot only

It’s hardy, but not frost hardy; it will still grow happily in a cool-ish place. Think over 4°C, preferably over 10°C… if you do have anything down to -5°C, make sure it’s fully dry so that the roots aren’t damaged by cold, wet soil.

Keeping it dry

Moderate watering all year round will keep this little one going. Think a splash once every 30 days (or when the soil is completely dry) during the warmer months; and a misting once every 30 days (or less) in the winter. Keeping it dry in the winter is very important, as the roots are more susceptible to rot during its “resting” phase.

Light and free draining soil

Used to subtropical grasslands, the Parodia Ottonis loves rich, fast-draining soil and deep pots that’ll allow it to stretch out its long, tubular roots. If you’re making the soil at home, aim for 75 percent leaf mulch or heather soil with 25 percent coarse siliceous sand. Or grab a bag of cactus soil from the garden store.

Spring fertilizer

In mid-spring every year, give it a little bit of food in the form of a mineral cactus fertilizer. It only needs to be fertilized once or twice a year, in spring to late summer. Low nitrogen fertilizer is the best for it.

How to repot a Parodia Ottonis

  1. Wait until the soil is completely dry.
  2. Gently remove the cactus from the pot.
  3. Knock away the old soil from the roots.
  4. Remove any rotted or dead roots.
  5. Treat cuts with a fungicide.
  6. Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with potting soil, spreading the roots out as you repot.
  7. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.