Grafting Moon Cactus on Dragon Fruit Plant

Wayback when I was visiting gardens shows in Los Banos, Laguna, I chanced upon a seller who had very colorful cacti on display. I learned from her that they were called Moon Cactus or Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. The prices were steep for my taste (as usual).

Well, I saw a tiny cactus pup (or offsets as they are called) that fell off in one pot. Of course, the curiousity in me led me into sneaking that pup into my pocket. This, with the intent of planting it at home as some sort of a cutting. I planted the pup. It just rotted after a few days.

I found out much later why there was no way for that Moon Cactus pup to survive.



Why Graft the Moon Cactus to the Dragon Fruit Plant


This is the reason why the Moon Cactus pup I sneaked out didn't survive on its own. The Moon Cactus, also known as Hibotan Cactus, Mutant Cactus or Chin Cactus, needs a host. This succulent plant cannot survive on its own roots as it lacks chorophyll.

Interestingly, the lack of chorophyll means there is no green pigment. That explains the vivid yellows, orange, red, pink, maroon, violet, and the combinations of these colors that the Moon Cactus is known for.

Grafting allows the Moon Cactus to have a host. The Moon Cactus becomes the scion and we use the Dragonfruit Plant or Hylocereus undatus as the stock (sometimes called rootstock).


But why graft the Oriental Moon Cactus to the Dragon Fruit plant? You could, actually graft it to any cactus for its rootstock. It just so happened that the Dragonfruit plant is widely common nowadays, easy to grow, and is quite hardy. This cactus plant has a thick base that makes the perfect host for the mutant Moon Cactus.


Preparing the Dragon Fruit Plant as Rootstock


For this stage, you will need a healthy and preferably mature Dragonfruit plant. One that has plenty of branches to choose from is good enough.
  1. Select branches that are healthy and robust. The branch need not be long as they will be cut into shorter segments later. Choose branches that are reasonably straight and thick.

  2. With a pair of heavy duty pruning shears or sharp cutter, cut the selected branch as shown below.

  3. Divide the branch into shorter segments around 6 inches long. Be sure to clean all cutting implements like cutters and pruning shears with rubbing alcohol. Some find the shorter Dragonfruit stock more appealing as the globe of the Moon Cactus is better showcased that way.

  4. Do note the proper orientation of the Dragonfruit cuttings as to which end is the top and which is the bottom for correct planting. Mark with a pen, if necessary.

  5. Let the Dragonfruit cuttings dry for 2 to 3 days. The more sap there is, the longer it may take to dry.





  6. Prepare the soil mix for the Dragonfruit plant rootstock. The soil mix I used is equal parts of: sand, compost, garden soil and rice hull (ipa). You may use other combinations, but the soil mix must be fast draining and loose.

  7. Plant the Dragon Fruit rootstock 1.5 inches deep into the soil mix that is just damp and not soaking wet. Lightly tamp the soil after planting.

  8. Set the planted Dragonfruit cuttings aside for 1 month for them to root. Put them in the shade but where there is bright light. The cuttings should not get wet nor be disturbed by pets or other animals.

    Because of the damp soil, there is no need to water the cuttings at all. However, if the weather becomes too hot and the soil dries out, water deeply. Don't water until the soil has dried again.

Preparing the Moon Cactus Scion


  1. Find Moon Cactus plants that have pups or offsets like the one below.

  2. While holding the Moon Cactus ball lightly with one hand, pluck the pup with the fingers of your other hand to break it off. The Moon Cactus spines don't hurt at all.

  3. The viability of the Moon Cactus pups is up to a few days only so do find a host (rootstock) for them as soon as possible. Moon Cactus plants come in various colors and color combinations as shown below.

  4. Alternatively, you could find and purchase Moon Cactus pups through online shopping.

Grafting the Moon Cactus Scion to the Dragon Fruit Stock



For this procedure, you would need the following tools and materials: sharp cutter, razor blade, masking tape, rubber bands.

  1. Set tools and materials on the work table as well as the pups you collected and the now-rooted Dragonfruit cuttings.

  2. With a sharp cutter, make a flat cut at the top of the Dragonfruit stock. The center of this cut will be the grafting point for the Moon Cactus pup. Keep the center cut as flat and as horrizontal as possible.

  3. Make sloping cuts on the ribs of the Dragonfruit stock. This cuts slope outwards from the center. Make these slanted cuts around 30 degrees from horizontal.

    These cuts allow water to drain away from the center of the stock, thereby preventing possible rot. This also places the Moon Cactus ball in the best possible view.

  4. Get one of the pups and inspect the bottom part where it broke off from its mother plant. The wound should be reasonably flat. If necessary, use a razor blade to carefully shave off uneven parts. The flatter the wound, the better, so there is maximum contact between the stock and scion for a successful graft.

  5. Seat the Moon Cactus scion in the center on top of the Dragonfruit stock. The scion should neither slide nor roll away from its position.

  6. Cut some pieces of masking tapes around 4 inches long. Bind the Moon Cactus scion to the Dragonfruit stock. The purpose of the tapes is just to keep the Moon Cactus scion in place and not to put too much pressure on the scion.

  7. To secure the masking tapes even further, put a small rubber band or a piece of string around the Dragon Fruit stock.

  8. Carefully put the newly grafted plants in the shade but with bright light for a week. It is important that they not be disturbed especially by pets or other animals during this time. Put them in a place where it is not too windy or where they might get wet. Do not water them at this time.


Finishing the Moon Cactus Graft



After a week undisturbed in the shade, the newly-grafted plants may be taken out for inspection.

  1. Carefully remove the small rubber band that surround the tapes.

  2. Remove the masking tapes one by one, taking care that no tape adhesive pull on the scion. You can do this by lightly placing your finger on the tape on top of the scion and then peeling off the tape as shown below.

  3. Upon closer inspection, you'll probably see that nothing much has changed, except that the scion didn't roll out as you removed the tapes. The cuts on the Dragonfruit stock also feel dry to the touch.

  4. But there is a difference. Even if you tilt the pot as shown below, the Moon Cactus scion will not fall out. The scion has attached to the stock. Notice too, that the soil mix looks dried up and yet the scion-stock plant continues to thrive.

  5. You could actually lightly touch the Moon Cactus scion. The spines are too tiny, a bit soft to the touch and don't hurt.

  6. If you look closely, you'll see a bit of white film surrounding the base of the Moon Cactus scion on the Dragon fruit stock. This is callous that has started to form. It indicates healing has started and this means a successful graft.

  7. The other newly-grafted plants have also been successful. At this stage, these plants are still vulnerable. Return them to the shade as before.

  8. After one more week, start introducing them to filtered sunlight. This could be under the canopy of a few taller plants in the garden.

  9. After two more weeks, you may put them in direct sunlight. Remember to water the plants deeply only when the soil is dry.

  10. It will take several months before the grafted plants grow to full maturity where the the Moon Cactus ball will reach around 2 inches in diameter like those shown below.


Video Tutorial


In summary, here's the video tutorial of the procedures:




Watering and Fertilizer


Before watering, check the soil. It should dry out between waterings. But do water deeply. The fast draining soil will take care of removing excess water the plant doesn't need. Avoid standing water or prolonged dampness which can cause root rot.

The Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) doesn’t need fertilizer.


How Long Does the Moon Cactus Live?


These plants rarely last more than a few years, since the upper scion and the lower rootstock portions grow at different rates. This graft union between the two sections may eventually be destroyed. However, it is not difficult to separate the old scion (or its new pup) and graft it onto a new rootstock cactus.

Although admired for its globular shape and bright color, the Oriental Moon Cactus does produce flowers. The small pink flowers grow at the sides and they don’t have a scent. The plant rarely flowers though.



Go ahead, post your comment below!

LJoy said...

Cool, thanks for the info! I jus bought my first moon cactus a few months ago, and I am simply fascinated by them!

Blackdove said...

Yes, they are beautiful. Thanks for dropping by!