Melocactus matanzanus (Dwarf Turk's Cap Cactus)

Scientific Name

Melocactus matanzanus Léon

Common Names

Dwarf Turk's Cap Cactus, Turk's Cap Cactus


Melocactus actinacanthus

Scientific Classification

Family: Cactaceae
Subfamily: Cactoideae
Tribe: Cereeae
Genus: Melocactus


Melocactus matanzanus is a small cactus with a globose, bright green, usually solitary stem with rounded ribs and brownish-gray or white spines. It grows up to 3.6 inches (9 cm) tall with an equal diameter. The spines, one central and 7 to 8 radials per areole, are up to 2 inches (5 cm) long. This cactus is one of the smallest species that produce cephalium, a dense mass of areoles covered with white wool and reddish-brown bristles at the stem's tip. The cephalium is globose to shortly cylindrical, up to 3.6 inches (9 cm) tall and up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) in diameter, and will only begin growing after the plant has reached a certain age. Flowers are rose-pink to carmine, up to 2 inches (5 cm) long, and appear from the cephalium in mid-summer.


USDA hardiness zone 10a to 11b: from 30 °F (−1.1 °C) to 30 °F (−1.1 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Melocactus are somewhat finicky cacti with unusual requirements. They shouldn't be allowed to completely dry out, even in winter, and they can suffer from soil composition, drainage, water level, sun, and more factors that are difficult to control. For that reason, these plants are best for growers who already have had some success cultivating cacti. Establish a balance with good aeration matched by ample water, good soil matched by good drainage, and these plants should continue to grow. If they're grown successfully, their unusual tops make them among the more beautiful of desert cacti.

Notably, Melocactus like to be fairly packed in, so keep them in a fairly small container that slightly constricts their roots. Repotting them at the beginning of the growing season is a good idea until they form cephalium, and the body stops growing, and they should be repotted like other cacti. See more at How to Grow and Care for Melocactus.


Native to the north of Cuba.


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Plants→Melocactus→Dwarf Turk's Cap Cactus (Melocactus matanzanus)

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Melon Cactus Care

Melon cacti are somewhat finicky plants that must have their growing requirements met for them to flourish. They are best for growers who already know how to care for other more basic types of cacti. They need lots of light, warmth, and sharp soil drainage.

Establishing the right watering routine is key for their care. They don’t like soggy soil, but they also shouldn't be left to dry out completely. Overwatering can damage or even kill the plant. But as long as you get the moisture level right, these cacti typically do not have any serious issues with pests or diseases.


These cacti need full sun to grow their best, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. If you are growing them indoors, place the pot by your brightest window, and bring it outside in the warm weather if possible to get direct sun.

Melon cacti prefer a sandy or rocky soil with excellent drainage. Poor soil drainage can quickly cause root rot on a plant. For container plantings, a well-draining cactus potting mix should work. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is ideal.


These cacti like a moderate amount of moisture. Give them some water whenever you stick your finger into the soil and it feels dry a few inches down. Don’t ever let the soil dry out completely, but be careful not to water so often that the soil is always wet.

Temperature and Humidity

Tropical temperatures are ideal for melon cacti. These plants aren’t cold hardy, and frost can kill them. A temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit is best. Protect your cactus from temperatures that drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as from cold drafts such as those from an air conditioner. Humidity typically isn’t an issue for the plant as long as it’s in well-draining soil.


Feed your melon cactus with a balanced cactus or succulent fertilizer during the spring and summer to boost growth. No fertilization is necessary during the fall and winter months.

Melocactus matanzanus (Dwarf Turk's Cap Cactus) - garden

Origin and Habitat: Northern Cuba (Matanzas and Las Villas Provinces).
Habitat: It is restricted to the coastal scrublands on serpentine outcrops among low xerophytic vegetation. This species is Critically Endangered. The major threat for this species is habitat degradation by forestry activities.

Description: Melocactus matanzanus is one of the smallest and most popular species that produce its cephalium (the structure, where the flower buds will form) and flower when quite young. It is perhaps the best and more commonly grown species. Plants of this genus attract more attention in collections than those of any other cactus genera.
Habit: It is a single stemmed perennial succulent plant with determinate growth (in which the axis does not continue to elongate indefinitely being limited by the development of the cephalium).
Stem: Spherical or slightly depressed, pale green, 8-9 cm high, and 8 to 9 cm thick. When the plant has reached a certain age it shows at the growing tip a cephalium .
Ribs: 8-9 (rarely up to13) acute.
Cephalium: Cap-like, globose to shortly cylindrical, (hence the common name of "Turk's Cap") 4-6 cm in diameter, 5-9 cm tall covered by tightly peaked areoles that bear wool and dense orange-red bristles.
Areoles: About 8 mm apart.
Radial spines: (5-)7-8(-9), recurved, up to 2 cm long, but usually less than 1,5 cm long.
Central spine: 1 ascending, curved, about 1,5 (rarely to 2,4) cm long, white, creamy-white to brownish, becoming grey or whitish.
Flowers: Small, rose pink to carmine, about 2 cm long, similar in form to Mammillaria flowers. They do not emerge fully from the cephalium.
Blooming season: The flowers arise annually in mid summer from the cephalium in a ring. The flowers are diurnal and opens for a few hours at about lunchtime. It starts flowering in 4 to 5 years.
Fruits: Clavate berry, 1 to 2 cm long pink to lilac-pink. Ripened fruits are present on the cephalium.
Seeds: 1 mm.
Similar species: For its small dimension and short recurved spines recurved Melocactus matanzanus is similar in shape with the Melocactus concinnus and Melocactus braunii of Brazil)

Subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars of plants belonging to the Melocactus matanzanus group

  • Melocactus matanzanus" href='/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/1964/Melocactus_matanzanus'> Melocactus matanzanus León : The dwarf of its genus, it has a green body with brown spines changing to grey, whilst cephalium has masses of fine bright orange-red spines.
  • Melocactus matanzanus subs. actinacanthus (Areces) Guiggi

Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Willy Cullmann “Kakteen: Einführung in die Kakteenkunde und Anleitung zu erfolgreicher Kakteenkultur” E. Ulmer, 1972
2) Hirao, H. “Colour Encyclopedia of Cacti” Seibundo Shinkocha Pub. Co. 1979
3) Stuart Max Walters “The European garden flora. 3.[Angiospermae], Dicotyledons. [Casuarinaceae to Aristolochiaceae]” Cambridge University Press, 1989
4) Edward Anderson “The Cactus family” Timber Press, Incorporated, 2001
5) David R Hunt Nigel P Taylor Graham Charles International Cactaceae Systematics Group. "The New Cactus Lexicon" dh books, 2006
6) John Borg “Cacti: a gardener's handbook for their identification and cultivation” Blandford Press, 1959
7) Curt Backeberg: “Die Cactaceae: Handbuch der Kakteenkunde.” Vol. IV, Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart New York 1984
8) Memorias de la Sociedad Cubana de Historia Natural „Felipe Poey“. Vol. 8, Numb. 4, 1934

Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Diego Armentano
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Frikkie Hall
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Melocactus matanzanus Photo by: Frikkie Hall

Cultivation and Propagation: These tropical cacti are not the easiest things to grow and aren’t plants for beginners.
Growth rate: It is a relatively rapidly growing given the best conditions.
Soils: It likes very porous standard cactus mix soil.
Repotting: The root system is weak and generally resents being repotted and can take a long time to re-establish. Use pot with good drainage.
Light: They prefere very bright light, not as much as the most arid growing cacti, but plenty nonetheless. Tends to bronze in strong light, which encourages flowering and heavy spine production.
Watering: Melocacti grow from April to October and cannot endure long stretches of total dryness, and also too much water will rot them, as their weak root systems tends to be inefficient at sucking up water from wet soil. Nonetheless, again as a result of their tropical origins, they need a fair amount of water, but allow the soil to dry quite a bit before watering again.
Fertilization: Do not feed in winter.
Hardiness: Melocactus rest from October to April but can’t stand cold, or even fairly cool temperatures, so is indispensable to keep them above 8-12°C at all times, severe damage or death occurring at temperatures that the great majority of cacti wouldn’t mind in the least and prefer more frequent water in winter than other cacti, say once a month. (but hardy to 4 C ° C for short periods). However warmth throughout the year will increase the grower's success (minimum 12° to 20° C during rest season).
Pests & diseases: It may be attractive to a variety of insects, but plants in good condition should be nearly pest-free, particularly if they are grown in a mineral potting-mix, with good exposure and ventilation. Nonetheless, there are several pests to watch for:
- Red spiders: Red spiders may be effectively rubbed up by misting the vulnerable plants every day
- Mealy bugs: Mealy bugs occasionally they develop aerial into the new growth among the wool with disfiguring results, but the worst types develop underground on the roots and are invisible except by their effects.
- Scales: Scales are rarely a problem.
- Rot: it is only a minor problem with cacti if the plants are watered and “aired” correctly. If they are not, fungicides won't help all that much.
Propagation: Exclusively by Seeds. Sow in February-march in a light, sandy, porous soil. Cover germinating tray with glass to prevent seed from drying out. Germination is most successful at a temperature of 18 to 22° C.

Melocactus Species, Matanzas Meloncactus, Melon Cactus, Dwarf Turk's Cap Cactus


Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Can be grown as an annual


Plant has spines or sharp edges use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From seed direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen clean and dry seeds

Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed clean and dry seeds

Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Gardeners' Notes:

On Oct 20, 2005, cactus_lover from FSD,
Pakistan (Zone 10b) wrote:

Melocactus Matanzanus is the smallest,which come from Cuba and is very pretty.It makes its cephalium in 4 to 5 years.

On Jul 22, 2004, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

smaller green Cuban species- matures quickly at about 4" in diameter, so if you want a relatively cheap melocactus with a cephalium already, this one could be for you. Once the cephalium forms, the cactus itself won't grow any/much. just the cephalium. Needs protection from hot sun and cold/damp combinations.

Watch the video: COLOUR MELO CACTUS

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